SB Voices: Improving through understanding

9th August, 2019 by Owen Bellwood

After attending this year’s understanding-focused P(our) Symposium, Owen Bellwood says the subject could solve more than just unappreciative patrons.

Narit Gessler (centre) and Brigitte Sossou Perenyi (right) spoke at this year’s P(our) Symposium, which was co-founded by Monica Berg (left)

From the never-ending stream of bickering on Twitter to stories of outraged airline passengers and fights on tube trains, it sometimes feels like a little more understanding would go a long way.

With people around the world focussing on their own personal struggles, it can be easy to forget the trials and tribulations faced by individuals from other walks of life. For a bartender on shift, daily issues could see them forced to skip a lunch break, stay behind the stick later than expected, make a last minute change to a cocktail during service or explain to a patron who’s had one too many why they’re cutting them off.

While these annoyances seem problematic at the time, when you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, to some they could appear trivial.

During this year’s P(our) Symposium, a day for bartenders to get together and learn from each other, the subject of understanding brought a host of the world’s larger issues to the fore.

The day saw Laura Try speak about the physical and emotional challenges she faced when rowing across the Atlantic Ocean, and the assembled on-trade experts heard from Brigitte Sossou Perenyi about her experiences with repressive practices such as trokosi, which sees girls forced to live and work with priests in religious shrines as an offer of atonement.

As well as a number of other speakers through the course of the day, the P(our) Symposium welcomed Narit Gessler, director of development at Free the Slaves, onto its stage.

Gessler acknowledged that a presentation on slavery isn’t something the day’s guests may normally listen to, but used the platform to highlight areas of the on-trade that slavery may still be prevalent. Farming of ingredients to make spirits, mining for metals to make bar tools and sourcing the raw materials that can be transformed into staff uniforms were all highlighted by Gessler.

Her talk served as a wakeup call to the assembled bartenders, as she highlighted that their choice of suppliers and products could impact the livelihoods of people around the world.

The day was filled with speakers tackling some of the world’s biggest issues, each striving to offer the assembled bartenders a better understanding of the challenges facing people today. While it wasn’t a case of belittling the issues we in the developed world may face, the P(our) Symposium instead offered up ways that the actions we take can improve the lives of others.

As the attendees from this year’s symposium returned to their respective venues armed with a newfound understanding that they could use to affect change, it became clear that a better understanding of the world could be the solution to many of its current challenges.

As Perenyi said while on stage: “Understanding is such an important topic because when we don’t understand we become complacent, when we don’t understand we become silent, when we don’t understand we don’t see the relevance in taking action.”

To find out more about this year’s P(our) Symposium look out for the August edition of The Spirits Business. 

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