If you want to know a person, and I mean really know a person, how do you do it? I’m not claiming to know the definitive answer, but I can tell you what works for me.
In my years as a member of a fraternity in college, I can certainly tell you what everyone else claims is the answer. Beer is as plentiful as water in most of the fraternal (and sororal) organizations at my school, and I know many a person who claims that the best way to get to a person’s core is over a pint or two of the stuff. It lubricates the mind, as it is said, and it makes one more open to conversation, even those topics which might have, up until that point, been off-limits to discussion.
While I can’t deny the results, I am not a person who can recommend this strategy, as I am none too fond of getting anyone drunk, whether that be myself or anyone else. This “drinking to get drunk” mentality is something I find abhorrent, but my own morality aside, it seems to me that if you want to get down to brass tacks with a friend without feeling like you have to visit the confessional later that week, another option must be found.
Short of psychological gymnastics, I have found sharing a pot of tea to be the best way to get to know a person intimately. It’s worked for me on many a fraternity brother who I otherwise would have thought particularly aloof. There is something about sitting around a table with a hot mug of tea in hand that promotes deep conversation. People I have thought timid, brash, or closed-minded are suddenly transformed, and a brother who I only ever joked around nonsensically with was suddenly willing to have an in-depth spiritual discussion with me.
While I lived in the fraternity house, weekly tea parties became surprisingly popular with some of my brothers, and instead of sharing a few bottles of beer together we often would share a pot of tea instead (Beer never disappeared completely though. Not that I would want it to). I don’t think I would know some of them half as well if it wasn’t for these get-togethers. But why is this? Why tea?
One can certainly tout the nigh-mystical properties of L-theanine, and claim that its effects relax the tea drinker without diminishing his mental faculties. This is certainly true, but I believe this is primarily due to the nature of sharing tea with someone. Even without being too ceremonious about the whole thing, having tea together has, for many years, been a relaxing affair meant to ease the mind and partake in easy conversation. I think this is partly the reason why “going out for coffee” seems to be the ideal “first date” scenario. And while coffee drinking has mostly evolved into getting “juiced-up” for the day’s activities, tea has consistently been about taking a step back, even while waking oneself up.
Similar feats can certainly be done with alcohol (and other, ahem, substances, of course) but without the concern of divulging information you may not wish to divulge. There is no risk of embarrassing secrets being revealed unless you wish it. Tea, to me, seems to be the absolute best way to get closer to your colleagues, without the risk. And the best part? Everyone remembers the conversation in the morning.
Image 2 courtesy of the author.