As we enter the final days of the 2016 Presidential Election campaign we continue to see discussions take place on major news channels, social media, at the supper table and wherever two are gathered to dialogue about the candidates. One concern I have is how the dialogue between candidates, the news channels and folks wanting to express their perspective has become more tense and personal than ever before. Even though political campaigns use a strategy of putting the opponent down, I don’t believe we have to do that in our conversations about divisive topics. As a farmer I have had many opportunities to engage in divisive conversations about how food is grown. There are some techniques I have learned through CommonGround that I believe would be very helpful in discussions we have with one another. These four tools can be the basis for a conversation that leaves room for respect and another person’s point of view.
Be Positive. When we are positive we allow room for other opinions, other ideas, other thoughts. We can seek to find common ground by first focusing on just that. As a mom I can often find common ground with other moms when I talk about how much I care about my children and grandchildren. I can talk about how my family drinks the water on our farm and we eat food produced not only on our farm but we buy it in grocery stores just like they do. When we seek to find something in common with another person we can separate the problem from the relationship. We can share our ideas about a problem and even if we disagree on the solution at least we can keep a level of respect for one another.
|My husband and I have five children. This picture was taken in
around 1990. Two of my children and a niece are sitting on my
lap. Our children are all adults now but I will forever be their
mom and will always care about their welfare.
Be Inclusive. In agriculture we are often pitted against one another by outside forces. Big farms are often portrayed as impersonal while small farms are put on a pedestal as the only way to produce food. As a farmer I choose to join the both/and crowd in recognizing the need for both. We need modern tools that allow us to develop seed technology that will survive the threats of drought, floods, insects and other natural attacks a seed faces. We also need farmers that will produce food in a way that allow consumers to have the choice to buy food right from the farmer. When we build on the initial respect for one another we can find ways to be inclusive to more than one way of doing things. Most of the time we can find a both/and solution versus either/or. There are times when we will not reach an agreement and when that happens we can agree to disagree.
Be Credible. We are able to look for information so quickly now. Sometimes an infographic or blog can influence people to believe an idea that has no basis in science or fact. One example is of a discussion I had with a radio host about sugar. She saw a picture on Facebook of a liver wrapped in netting and the writing below it said that if you eat high fructose corn syrup your liver would look like that. I went through the steps of explaining how an Iowa State researcher had proof that the body does not recognize sugar by the source it came from. If she had sugar from beets, cane or corn it would all act similarly in the body and none of them result in netting around the liver. Even though I had credible information this person had trouble getting that visual out of her head and still struggled with believing me. Finding the right sources to get credible information can be a struggle for many people and that is why we have many farmers reaching out to consumers to talk about how we produce food. We base our decisions on science and research so that we can build trust with consumers. .
|One way for me to visit with consumers about how food is
grown is through an invitation to have a conversation by
spending time in supermarkets for CommonGround.
Be Real. You are who you are because of your lived experiences, education, beliefs and choices. As a farmer that works with our cattle I can share the experiences I have of caring for cattle in a feedlot setting because I live it each day. My values from my faith flow over into the way I care for our land and our animals. My education gives me the foundation of how and when to administer antibiotics. I admit I do not have all the answers and so I depend on other professionals like our veterinarians, nutritionist, nutrient manager and crop consultant to help us make the best decisions we can to be responsible, sustainable and successful. When I travel I utilize photos from our farm to help in conversations that happen in places like the airport. Once, I was sitting next to a gentleman from Miami on a flight from Chicago to Omaha. He was telling me about his condo and the beautiful view he had. I shared some information about my farm and the beauty I see. He got his phone out and started showing me pictures of that beautiful view he had. I asked him if he would like to see photos of my farm. The first picture I pulled up included grain bins, cattle, fields, etc… He burst out “you have a REAL farm” with such enthusiasm that I nearly fell out of my chair! I don’t know what fake farms are but I do know that there are a variety of ways to show people our real side.
|When I share this photo of our feedlot many people are
surprised at how much room the cattle have to move around.
Using the CommonGround approach to being positive, inclusive, credible and real in our conversations with one another can help us keep our relationships strong and provide room for the exchange of ideas. I would like to share with you this quote from Pope Francis about dialogue.
“Dialogue is born from an attitude of respect for the other person, from a conviction that the other person has something good to say. It assumes that there is room in the heart for the person’s point of view, opinion and proposal. To dialogue entails a cordial reception, not a prior condemnation. In order to dialogue, it is necessary to know how to lower the defenses, open the doors of the house, and offer human warmth.”