RICHLAND -- The Reflection Cafe opened up shop a year ago in Richland with a menu of talking points ranging from religion to gay rights to music to poetry.
Debi Eng of Kennewick started attending the discussion group last year as a performer. She is not only a music teacher at Chiawana High School in Pasco, but also a professional musician.
"My first visit was as an invited guest," she said. "I was asked to sing a couple of songs because the subject that night was music. Since then, I've been hooked."
The most important lesson to learn during the sessions is that people sometimes must agree to disagree, said Tri-City psychologist Allen Johnson.
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It can be enlightening to listen to what others have to say, even if you don't agree, he added, because the development of thought serves as the centerpiece of Reflection Cafe.
Johnson and another Richland psychologist, Mike Pieracci, started the group a year ago, and they are delighted interest hasn't fizzled.
"When I started the Reflection Cafe, I was trying to create a community, a place where people could speak honestly about topics of importance and where rich friendships would be created," Johnson said. "We have succeeded in that endeavor."
Eng keeps returning because she is intrigued by the different points of view that people bring to the table.
"It's also a way to kill the screens, computers and cellphones, and have face to face communication for a short period of time," she said. "It's an awesome way to spend an evening."
The group meets the second and fourth Thursday of each month at Rosy's Diner in Richland. As many as 21 people between the ages of 20 and 90 attend the sessions.
"The Reflection Cafe has been a welcome oasis of calm and thoughtful discussion," said Carl Van Hoff of Richland. "The focus is on exploration and seeking to understand other points of view, as opposed to entering a discussion only to prevail in conflict. This is a refreshing contrast to the rants and diatribes one encounters elsewhere."
Van Hoff said he views the discussions as thought-provoking and will find himself mulling over a comment days after the gathering.
Patricia Johnson of Richland considers herself open-minded, but she was hesitant to share her opinions -- until she joined the group.
"Living in a community, as we do as citizens of this country, we must adhere to laws that are foreign to the beliefs of some of us," Johnson said. "All we can do is advocate for what we believe is right. Laws have been enacted and then retracted. Right of life, death penalty, gay marriage -- we won't all agree, but we can listen just the same."
Bill and Rose Petrie of Richland have been attending the group for about nine months and have similar views.
"The group is composed of people of various professions and backgrounds with many different viewpoints on any subject discussed," Bill Petrie said. "While we may not always agree with each other's viewpoints, the respect is such that we never argue."
His wife agreed, though she said she is more introspective in her opinions.
"I hear people voice opinions and feelings on a subject, and many times I find myself contemplating what was said and repeat it to myself and even change the way I thought or felt," she said. "I am so enjoying the companionship of people who can talk about anything."
Will Barkhuff has attended the Reflection Cafe discussion group since it started last March. He found the group discussions to be a positive experience and quite interesting, he said.
"I had never really done anything like this before, and I did not know what to expect," Barkhuff said. "The main thing I enjoy is hearing the range of opinions on the various topics. The facilitators do a great job of guiding the discussion to deeper understanding, which is the point of the group."
Those topics have included the meaning of community, God, spirituality, art, history, poetry, death and dying, the mystery of self, love, illuminations/epiphanies/joy, communication, religion and tolerance.
Johnson and Pieracci encourage anyone to join the group, and all ages are welcome. There is no cost involved, and participants need only provide an email address to receive reminders of what the topic will be for the next session.
The topic for the next discussion group will be "fear." Is it healthy or unhealthy? Can it be conquered? If so, how? Do you sometimes scare yourself or others? If so, why? What is the relationship between fear and self-confidence or fear and social aptitude? Got an opinion on that issue? Head to Rosy's Diner on April 12 and put in your two-bits worth, Johnson said.
For more information, email Johnson at email@example.com or call 627-3000.