University City

Socrates Café offers deep thoughts

Mehl Renner doesn't have all the answers.

In fact, he's interested in knowing what others think about the challenges facing our nation and the world.

He could scroll social media pages for gems of wisdom or tune in to daily newscasts for discussions on such topics as the proper role of governments in education or whether honesty should be a part of politics.

Instead, Renner sits down for two hours twice a month with a group at the Ben Craig Center, a business incubator at University Research Park.

The group, called Socrates Café, gives him a chance to talk, listen and learn. He also attends meetings twice a month with a group that meets at the Univeristy City YMCA.

"It has given me a better feel for how other people view issues," said Renner, 67, who lives in the Forest Pond community.

"It's something you don't get by doing everything electronically. Why not just sit down and talk with each other?"

Similar groups meet all over the world. More than 400 Socrates Café groups have formed internationally.

Samuel Berkowitz started Charlotte's first group six years ago. Today, he leads two groups. (A third operates separately in Concord.)

"I've had a desire to be of service when I retired," said Berkowitz, 74.

"I do it because I feel like there is a need."

Each week the participants choose one question for their discussion. It's not a debate.

"Debate always means that there is a winner or a loser," Berkowitz said.

"It doesn't lead to empathy, and it does not lead to the truth."

Charles Lucas, 86, has been joining the discussion at the Ben Craig Center for about four years.

His wife, Christina, usually participates, too.

"It's harder to tap into an intellectual side of life," Christina Lucas said.

"He doesn't get into the ordinary conversations that are always floating around, like what has happened with Michael Jackson.

Her husband describes his interest in the group in simpler terms.

"Basically it's just fun," he said. "It's a love affair with ideas."