Anthony Barwick’s Conversation Piece: A reality exchange
By J.T. Ryder
I was so excited about being a part of the Conversation Piece that I did something I rarely do: I arrived early. I had a week to reflect my opinions and the psychology behind them, which made me come to some rather startling epiphanies.
Anthony Barwick was inspired to create the forum he dubbed the Conversation Piece after some public readings from the manuscript of a novel he had written. People’s reactions to the scenarios and characters fascinated Barwick, sidetracking him into a more interesting arena. Soon he was facilitating group forums to discuss hot button topics. The manna for Barwick is the heartfelt beliefs and convictions of people regarding racial, social and political issues, religious beliefs and opinions about relationships. The only standing rule is: Can you defend your beliefs?
In speaking with Barwick before, during and after one of the Conversation Pieces, I found we shared one definitive character flaw (strength?) in common: Neither one of us could stay on one subject for more than a few moments before careening off topic into another conversational concern that needed immediate attention before being quickly abandoned for another. The first question was the most obvious one: Why?
“It was to create a forum for people to truly speak their minds on various subjects regarding three separate topics, which are social issues, political issues and relationship issues,” Barwick said. “In everyday life, people think that they can really speak their minds, but when they try to, they get a lot of flack and pushback, so I wanted to create a space for the individual to say what they truly feel, even if it hurts people’s feelings or pisses people off. We are there for people just to throw it out there and say it. The only caveat of our discussions is, ‘Can you defend what you believe?’”
Opinions and beliefs are a funny thing. Oddly enough, the less self esteem one has is directly correlated to how entrenched one may be in their beliefs, even when confronted with irrefutable proof dispelling their same said belief. Opinions across the board are almost exclusively self-serving. Very rare is the individual that holds an opinion to be true that would be detrimental to his or her own well-being. In this age of political correctness, what one professes to believe and what one truly believes are sometimes different. The format of the Conversation Piece can make the playing field a little more level by providing the participants with one advantage: immediacy.
“You know, with writing, I can say what is politically correct, but when you are in an open forum and people are actually listening to you and you can’t erase what you say,” he said. “It’s easier to hide behind a pen and to draft those notes and edit things, but there’s a difference when you have an open forum and people get to see your immediate reaction and you can see their reaction and then that forces you into a discussion. Once it’s out there, it’s out there.”
On the day the Conversation Piece arrived, I went down to De’Lish on North Main Street. They had a fantastical brunch laid out and everybody was chatting in small groups. One thing became glaringly obvious: Out of a group of 25 people, I was the only Caucasian. I sat down, praying that the subject of reparations would not come up and the conversations began. It was done as a series of rapid-fire questions begging knee-jerk reactions (which, while usually less eloquent, tends to be a bit more honest).
The first round was about relationships, which I bowed out on, being an expert on how to ruin one. Then we went on to more social and political topics. One common theme seemed to be present in every answer, regardless of the question; it had an Afro-centric bend. This boils down to a case of self-definition. If you define yourself as a black man or a feminist or a Christian, that is the lens you have selected to view the world through and everything you see will be reflected by that lens. A black man will see everything with an Afro-centric view, the feminist will see male-biased inequalities and a Christian will view the world through scripture.
“That’s one thing I try not to do, J.T.: I try not to make this event a ‘black thing.’ I sort of get discouraged when I’m asked that question. It’s kind of interesting in and of itself, because you sort of typically find those type of forums where it’s just typically like-races or like-minded people. I prefer as diverse of a crowd as possible.” Bringing up a moment at the event, Barwick said, “As a case in point, when you were there and we discussed the ‘N word,’ did you see how quiet it got when you spoke?”
Which begs the question, “Does everyone have a right to an opinion?” As this specific debate about the “N word” has no bearing on my day to day existence, can I even formulate an educated opinion since it would be based on circumstances rather than experience? Demographic diversity is one thing Barwick aims to shoot for in the coming events, along with some more visceral elements. Taking a rather long view of what the Conversation Piece is and what it is evolving into, I feel the next evolutionary step must be not only can the Conversation Piece evoke an emotion and examination of one’s own belief structure, but more importantly, can the Conversation Piece elicit a change? Of course, that’s just my opinion …
Reach DCP freelance writer J.T. Ryder at JTRyder@DaytonCityPaper.com.