This isn’t my normal kind of post but it’s something that I want to share. It seems more and more I’m incredibly frustrated some days by the conversations I find. It’s amazing how well people think they know me just by reading a few (or sometimes just one) of my posts on social media. And those folks can be pretty quick to place judgment. Communication is hard most some days.

If you’re willing to stick your neck out there to voice an opinion, especially on a site like CNN, you had better be willing to take some flack and critical feedback. I thought I would share a few lessons I’ve learned the hard way as an agriculture advocate.

lessons learned through advocacy and conversations
Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t

There are a lot of lazy people out there.

I’ll be honest, I like cattle and horses a lot more than I like people most days. I understand horses and cows. What I don’t understand is how people can buy into information and never make the effort to look at all sides of an issue. Seriously, where do people come up with these things? If you saw it in a documentary, then found it again on a website, it has to be true, right? Forget the other perspectives, common sense, or science. Emotion rules!

Agriculture needs to do a better job of recognizing and sharing improvements that can be made in the food chain.

While I knew this was the truth, this has been made even more loud and clear to me after reading the conversations/posts from consumers in response to my CNN articles. We’ve done a terrible job of showing our customers the improvements we have made and we avoid the hard topic of what we need to improve on next.

It is the responsibility of farmers and ranchers to tell our story and listen to our customers.

And we’re terrible at listening. There’s a lot of pride and independence instilled in farm and ranch life. Why should we bother making an extra effort to tell people about what we do? Because other people are telling the general public about farming and ranching and those stories often are not true. As the people most directly connected to what our customers eat, we are the real experts. The sad part is people believe the stories that are being told about us and it’s an uphill battle to fight first impressions. Communication may be hard, but it is necessary.

People are jerks.

If you want to find the cruelest community in America, scroll down to the comments section of any major news outlet. Seriously, people actually say those things? You bet! And there’s not much use in arguing with them. On top of that, you have people that seem to comment just because they like to see their name show up. They add no value to the conversation. There must be great wi-fi reception underneath bridges where the trolls live.

Respect your peers, regardless of production practices.

I am human, I share my perspective based on my life experiences. Just because I describe my experiences from one type of farming/ranching, doesn’t mean I don’t support other production types. It’s not all or nothing, but if you listen to my critics, you would think that was the case. If you thought being a jerk was only true for the general public, go see some of those within the agriculture community who label themselves as “independent thinkers”.

The pendulum swings both ways.

I akin this to the swing in fad diets. One day Atkins diet is the rage, the next day carbs are manna from heaven, and next thing you know everyone thinks they have celiac disease and wheat is the devil. People go to extremes and when they do, folks on the other end of the spectrum are always wrong. This goes for the methods of agriculture we choose to discuss and we can be so wrapped up with the infighting that we forget to talk about the middle ground. Not that we don’t have it, we just forget about it at times.

Transparency is the answer. Even that will be attacked.

The only way to address all the misinformation out there is with honest communication and transparency. However, when we are transparent we can be heavily criticized for what is revealed. To make it worse, when we aren’t transparent, critics think we have something to hide. Agricultural tools have changed drastically over the past few decades and we’ve done a terrible job of being transparent about those changes, why they were made, and the improvements they provide. Most people can understand these changes if we take the time to explain them.

It is possible to become overwhelmed by social media.

Holy cow! I can’t tell you the number of days in the past 3 years when I have wanted to throw away each and every mobile device in my hand and rip out the internet connection on my laptop. All the previous points are just introductions to the reasons for that. Social media gives people a bullhorn and the filters turn off when people hit the keyboards. Taking in and responding to all of the communication that come across your social media fields can be overwhelming and depressing. They can make you angry and want to take off for the pasture never to return.

But we have a responsibility to join the conversations and be present when people have questions. Otherwise, we lose our voice in the conversations and essentially any representation when it comes time to make decisions that determine our ability to continue making a living in the world we live in. The stupid people may have the bullhorn, but we have to remember there are lots of folks out there silently listening, watching our (re)actions, and wanting to learn more about where their food comes from.

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