I feel compelled to post this.
Last year I spent a lot of energy trying to get a coworking
group started in York. This
meant, among other things, that every Friday (and later, every
Thursday) I drove up to the King & Beaver Cafe (now the Green
Bean), set up my little sign, and
worked for eight hours. I would do my best to get the word out, and
sometimes others would come and join me. But more often than not –
especially at the beginning – I was alone.
One such day, one of the cafe regulars noticed me working at my table
and came over and introduced himself as a Mr. Steve Young. I explained
the idea of coworking to him and he was enthusiastic about it,
exhorting me to keep it up and optimistic that it would be a benefit
to the York business community.
As the months went by, Steve turned out to be my most reliable source
of encouragement. I found that while the project had a lot of fans
online, it was rare for the people that expressed support on Twitter
to actually show up at the cafe, even just to say hi. But Steve was
there almost every day, and he always had something nice to say. He’d
see me working all by myself and tell me, over and over again: “Don’t
give up! It’ll succeed if you stick to it!”. Sometimes, when dragging
myself out of the house even though I knew I’d probably be all by
myself all day, it was probably his encouragement as much as anything
that gave me the nudge to stubbornly keep at it.
From our chats at the cafe I came to know him as someone who cared
deeply about the city he called home, and had strong opinions about
what could be done to improve it. I had lived in the area for nine
years but I had only recently started taking a strong interest in
York, so I didn’t have much to say or argue about on the topic. But I
found his observations from being a longtime business owner in the
city interesting and sometimes entertaining.
At some point I became aware that Steve was something of an anathema
amongst a large swath of the other people I was getting to know who
were active in working to make York a better place. I didn’t know –
and still don’t know – all the back-story there, but I gather it has
something to do with his abrasive and aggressively partisan tone in
One day I was at the cafe, having a discussion with another York
friend. We’ll call him “Joe”. Somehow he got onto the topic of Steve
Young, not realizing that Steve was sitting a couple of tables away.
He spent a good ten minutes ranting about what a giant jerkwad Steve
was. After a series of successively more violent head-gestures in
Steve’s direction I eventually managed to convey the fact that he was
in the same room with us.
Joe did the stand-up thing and went over to apologize in case Steve
had overheard any of it. What followed was something like an hour of
completely civil discussion between the two. I don’t think they agreed
on everything they talked about, but no voices were raised and while I
could be wrong, I suspect that Joe may have walked out of the cafe
with a slightly increased respect for Steve.
It occurred to me, as I watched all this go down, that a lot of the
people who revile this man may have never once sat down and had a
conversation with him. They may not have even met him in real life.
I still don’t know Steve all that well. It’s entirely possible that we
have strong disagreements on many issues. What I do know about him
are three things: despite barely knowing me, he was a relentlessly
positive cheerleader as I tried to kickstart coworking in York. He
cares deeply about making York a better, safer, more prosperous place.
And he’s capable of having a reasonable, civil discussion with anyone
who sits down to talk with him face-to-face.
Which means that every time I see someone say something just plan
nasty about the guy on Twitter, I’m taken aback. Is this really how
the York cultural movers & shakers deal with people that don’t agree
with them? And has the person ever had an actual conversation with
they guy they are calling names?
If there’s a moral to this story, it’s this: make a point of having
coffee (or beer) with someone you despise at least once a month.