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passion vs. snobbery: the cautionary tale of Murky Coffee

On July 21st covering ,

I deal with people who have strong opinions about what they do. They are passionate experts. Some of them are musicians, some are programmers, some are something else. Some complain about being accused of being snobs about whatever their thing is — some wear it as a badge of honor. But truly, snobbery is destructive — it drives people away.

It’s the opposite of what the specialist needs to do, which is to share their love and enthusiasm for whatever their thing is, whether it’s modern chamber music, database design, or fine bicycles.

If you are deeply passionate about a thing and you have a refined appreciation for it that you are impelled to share, you are giving a great gift to your audience/customer base/community. If you’re derogatory towards the unwashed masses who aren’t connoisseurs like you, they will hate you and you deserve it.

It’s tricky, though, because if your appreciation for your thing far exceeds that of your audience (as it should) it will be very easy for people to feel criticized and shamed — even if you don’t have this attitude. You need to bend over backwards to show that you wish to share your passion, not humiliate those who don’t share it already.

The truly passionate experts I meet are able to give me a glimpse of what’s great about their thing, infect me with their enthusiasm and give me a bit of knowledge. I feel my world has expanded. The snob makes me feel diminished, slightly stupid and defective for not spending my life focused on their specialty.

The recent internet catfight between my local coffee shop and an internet critic just makes everyone look bad. It’s a textbook example about how to destroy your audience rather than educating it.

Here’s the original article by the customer and the poorly-considered rejoinder by the owner of Murky Coffee with his follow-up. The vitriol in the comments of both blogs is something to behold.

I’ve had the coffee at Murky Coffee. It really is wonderful, and I believe the owner and staff are sincere in their fanatical love of the brew. This is an opportunity for them to consider whether they are welcoming the public into sharing this appreciation, or unwittingly creating a velvet-rope experience that makes people feel shut out.

UPDATE: A Friend Writes:

None of these articles has touched on the fact that certain patrons of retail establishments actually prefer and even seek out so-called ‘exclusivity’, as in, they are dying to be the one person whom [substitute badly-behaved idiot of your choice] treats well, or the one who can always get a good table, or who can otherwise pass effortlessly beyond any red velvet rope. It is imperative that others be visibly mistreated in order that the contrast shall be as marked and as manifest as possible. Without this desire (on the part of customers, I’m sayin’) to be elevated above others, you would never have a story like the coffee story.

Well said.

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