“Good fences, make good neighbors”. Most livestock producers live and die by this saying. Although, even people in non-agricultural industries know maintaining tight and firm boundaries keep animals safe, sound and and conflict free. While this is a commonsense piece of advice, it is surprising how little we apply it to other aspects of our lives.
This election year has been the most contentious in my memory. Never before have I seen such distinct lines being drawn; rhetoric and hate being perpetuated and spewed, and friends and family disowning each other over political beliefs.
This same mentality has bled over to many social issues as well. Respectful discourse has been replaced with personal opinions, based on little to no understanding of the community or issue in question. Issues seem to be black or white - no shades of grey or room for compromise.
Gone is any indivisibility or thought for the greater good. Polite boundaries have been retired in favor of all out personal attacks if we do not agree. Instead of building bridges by asking questions and learning we are tearing down fences by being divisive.
Agriculture is not immune. Often we complain about our consumers. From their political leanings to how they feel they are experts about our way of life. We resent their “uninformed” opinions when they show outrage over the latest food recall or animal abuse video.
We are not quiet or secretive about our contempt for the very people that support us. No, we post tirades in public social media groups meant to bridge the gap between us. We share memes and “jokes” mocking those that make us uncomfortable. We dismiss constructive criticism from those that want to see us improve.
Yet we demand these same people blindly ‘thank a farmer’ for not being “cold, naked and hungry”. We forget that all roles in society should be valued and appreciated. Our elitism only serves to further disconnect us from the people we claim we want to reach out to.
We want the public to believe agriculture is trustworthy, noble and will do the right thing when push comes to shove. They want to think we are the good guys in the white cowboy hats. But if we continue down our current path, jumping on bandwagons, not bothering to learn subtle nuances of important issues, and basically lacking empathy for those outside our cliques, we will never connect in a meaningful or positive way.
We have become bad neighbors to some of our consumers. It is time for agriculture to do some hard word and mend some fences. It is time to reinstate some firm boundaries for ourselves and act the same way we demand our consumers do. Good fences, do make good neighbors, but only if we are willing to work to maintain them.