Friday, June 10, 2005

It's Just a Beer

Those who have known me for a while are aware that I have never been one to drink alcohol. This has been my choice for as long as I was old enough to know the difference.

When I was a teenager, my refusal to imbibe was all about rebellion. I was rebelling against the high school notion that one must drink in order to be considered cool. At that time (and now), my preference was for people to judge my coolness based on who I was, not what I chose to consume. As such, I faithfully downed my soda during the weekend get-togethers while everyone around me descended quickly to the depths of intoxication; then later, picked up their car keys and drove home.

This avoidance of alcohol has continued throughout my adult life. Even while my various softball teams were participating in the customary bonding ritual of after-game trips to the bar, I stayed true to my decision, clutching my glass of soda while sharing the pizza, wings and nachos with my teammates.

Through this, I realized that turning down a drink that is offered, even when done as kindly and politely as possible, still resulted in some hurt feelings and confusion. I began to ask myself: What, really, is the big deal ?

We are not in high school anymore. My level of acceptance within a group is not dependent on whether or not I drink. I know how to moderate myself. I know that I run a negligible, if any, risk of overindulging or becoming dependent like my late uncle and grandfather had. Although it remains that I should be free to gently turn down offers if I so choose, what truly is the harm in accepting ?

After all, it's just a beer.

This train of thought came to the forefront recently when my firefighting class met at the pizza parlor after our final exam. I was offered a glass of Hefeweisen by a fellow student that I respect and admire highly. At that moment in time, I was at a crossroads.

Do I refuse, as I always had done, out of habit ? Or do I accept ?

What is the harm in accepting his kind offer ? For the first time, I could not come up with a good answer to that question.

I know better than to pound back an entire pitcher on my own. Accepting does not mean that I drink myself into a stupor, throw up, drive impaired, or say and do things that I later will regret. It simply means that I take the frothy mug, and continue participating in the group activity.

So I chose the Hefeweisen. I casually sipped it while sharing in the pizza, the laughter, and the good-natured joking and storytelling amongst the group.

That single glass of beer, faithfully counted in my Weight Watchers points for the day, is an example of how life can be so much richer when one abandons a black-and-white way of thinking, and embraces the many shades of gray in between.

I used to think in black and white all the time. With my family upbringing and the personalities therein, it was my only frame of reference. According to my family culture, there was only one 'right' solution to every problem. Other options and interpretations were rarely considered, if ever. The notions of compromise and a 'win-win solution' were foreign. The only goal was to get one's own way in whatever method possible. Every decision, every action, was all or nothing; that was all I knew. My complete rejection of everything alcoholic was a reflection of this.

In the years that have passed, I have grown and matured, and have come to appreciate the drawbacks of this way of thinking. The aggressive, my-way-or-the-highway approach does not respect the feelings of others, nor does it consider the myriad of possible solutions to a given problem. Granted, there are some issues that have very clear-cut choices, but in many cases, the best answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Stephen R. Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" speaks about searching for a win-win solution, one that offers a suitable compromise, and that satisfies the wants and needs of all parties concerned. After reading that book, and truly absorbing its message, I reached an epiphany. Life isn't about all or nothing. It is about everything within the two. That is where I want to be.

Since then, I have consciously worked to rewrite the scripts of my upbringing, to deliberately step back from situations and consider as many options as possible. I made it my goal to venture into the areas of gray, and strive for a win-win solution that takes into account the wants and needs of everyone involved. It is an ongoing process, one that I have not yet perfected, but that I still endeavor to keep in the forefront of my mind.

Win-win isn't about one person getting his way, and everyone else acquiescing. It is about all parties agreeing to a mutually satisfying solution, even if concessions need to be made. It is not about choosing black or white, but about considering all that is in between. There is no more worthy goal than that.

That night, at the pizza parlor, what was in front of me was not just a glass of beer. It was a gateway to building stronger, deeper relationships with people, and a reminder of the infinite value of the many shades of gray.


Anonymous Dizzy said...

Yes... but did you like the beer? ;)

June 10, 2005 at 6:00:00 PM PDT  
Blogger Charles said...

You are correct to abandon black & white thinking. work the grey areas. A social drink every now and then is okay, as long as it does not become a habit. If you have one, however, make sure it is because YOU want it, not because it was merely offered.

Understand, that one beer acceptance eventually leads to one martini acceptance, and once you slip down that path of gin, dance and song, you find one martini leads to 3 or 4, then you find yourself waking up in the back seat of someone's car wondering who the hell they are, and where you left your pants.

I KNOW this! I am sadly a gin fiend. :)

so watch out for those folks offering you the first beer.

June 27, 2005 at 6:08:00 PM PDT  
Anonymous Chris B-Cisco said...

Yesss..way to jump on the GREY wagon. Hef is my fav beer. But alas ..I do not discriminate.

July 7, 2005 at 2:48:00 PM PDT  
Blogger Heather D said...

I'm just bummed I wasn't there to enjoy it with you! lol

Although I'm glad you are able to reflect back and realize you were living a world of black and white, and have come to accept a few greys here and there... please remember that what you originally thought was correct, people should accept you for who and what you are, and respect your preferences. Whether you are a "drinker" or not, it shouldn't make a difference.
You know me, I'm on the opposite end, people tend to "judge" me because I like to partake in the consumption of alcoholic beverages a little more than the average Jane. (feel free to give me props for sticking true to the King of Beer games when writing that sentence ;)BUT, you know what- to partially quote Chris Tucker- It's Friday, I just finished my job and I aint got shit to do!
Do what YOU want to do, WHEN you want and HOW you want to do it. If people don't accept you for that, it's their loss. ~Heather D

July 8, 2005 at 9:52:00 AM PDT  
Anonymous Jorie said...

The interesting thing is that there is something deeper here. In my opinion both reasons for not drinking were ultimately about not trusting yourself - you didn't trust that you would know you were liked for you if you drank in highschool and you didn't trust yourself not to become an alcoholic. The journey you are on seems to be one of self acceptance and trust.
Besides, a drink be it fine wine, a good quality beer or a fun fruity summer delight can be very enjoyable and relaxing so why deprive yourself just to prove a point? The only person losing would be you. (though there are a lot more Weight Watchers points in one of those fruity things)

July 8, 2005 at 12:14:00 PM PDT  

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