Sam Berkowitz says he does things for fun. When it’s not fun anymore, he doesn’t do it anymore.
“I guess this café has been fun for me,” he said. “I’ve been doing it for 10 years and don’t plan on quitting.”
Berkowitz, 75, is the facilitator of the Socrates Café. The group meets twice a month to discuss philosophical questions. Usually, one question is asked, and the discussion takes up the full two-hour duration of the meeting.
“We could talk all night,” he said. “But after two hours I tell everybody to shut up and go home.”
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Berkowitz has quite a sense of humor.
He appointed himself facilitator because although he’s a real goof, he says, he knows a lot.
“It’s hard to be the facilitator,” Berkowitz said. “Sometimes you have to challenge an accepted opinion and poke and prod a bit. Not everyone is comfortable doing that.”
Although people like to give their opinions, he said, the discussions never turn heated.
“It’s not a debate,” Berkowitz said. “In a debate, team A wants to beat team B. Someone wants to win. We just want to talk.”
He said recently, a lawyer came to the group with a topic in mind and an argument prepared.
“She came in and told us her opinions.” said Berkowitz. “She was ready and knew what she wanted. But it wasn’t five minutes until we changed her question, which changed her mind about a lot of what she believed. That’s what we want to do; open up people’s minds to other possibilities.”
Several new groups have splintered off the University City group, including in Concord and Cornelius. Berkowitz said he’s been to a few but was disappointed.
“They would hear one opinion and just go with it, without challenging it,” he said. “That’s why a facilitator is so important. They have to keep the group moving and thinking.”
Berkowitz is trying to get a group started closer to uptown to attract more young people. The group meets at 11:30 a.m. on a weekday, usually when young people are working.
“Right now, it’s mostly retired people, but I’d really like to get some younger minds in here,” he said. “We are working on getting a Facebook page up, but I really don’t know much about that sort of thing.”
The group tends to be nomadic, finding new places to meet every couple of years. Beginning in March, the Socrates Café will meet at the neighborhood clubhouse in the Radbourne subdivision, where Berkowitz lives.
“I hope we are here to stay for a while,” he said.