Years ago, when I first started writing my blog, I came across an article that spoke to me in an important way. A blogger by the name of Jenny Dewey Rohrich wrote a brilliant post called “Do Farmers Have Choices?” (read the article here). In essence, she wrote that no one forces farmers to choose genetically modified seeds (GMOs), pesticides, fertilizers, or even the size of their farms. The farmer makes that choice.
Back in 2013, in the heart of the difficult discussion (argument?) society was having around GMOs, this article inspired me to write my own perspective about why we choose the products and services we do. Today, I believe this discussion is more important than ever (even if the controversy over GMO’s has lessened) – but maybe not for the reason you think.
A common frustration I had in writing about the choices I, as an individual farmer, make was the assumption of conspiracy. Often, when I would extoll the advantages of GMOs and crop protection products, I would get a message that looked like this:
I’m always interested to see the number of accounts that show up in these threads that post nothing but pro-GMO or pro-Monsanto comments.
The top voted comment right now is from /u/saskwheatfarmer – a year old account that’s only ever posted in this one thread. As far as I can tell /u/seastar2019 has never posted in a thread not about GMO’s.
This response came after comments I made about the movie Percy on Reddit, and highlight an important issue society is facing: the belief that someone with a perspective you so fundamentally believe to be wrong cannot possibly actually believe it himself. What I found in several cases like this (over many years) was that it was assumed that I was some sort of stooge for a chemical company, like Monsanto. No farmer could realistically actually believe GMOs and crop protection products were a good thing.
It didn’t matter that I was (and am) a farmer. It didn’t matter that I am a human being with family including young children. It didn’t matter that there may be some benefits to modern agriculture. All those people had to do was to insinuate that I am nothing more than a shill for a multinational organization. Once they could link my post to that possibility, any point I was making was (in their eyes) completely bunk.
What this does is destroy the ability to have a discussion. Since the person you disagree with is a shill, there is no reason to talk to him. Clearly, you’re still correct and standing on a moral high ground, and the person you disagree with is a corrupted human being with nothing of value.
Unfortunately, this issue has not gone away – it has in fact gotten worse. Way worse.
We live in a world today where family members won’t speak to each other because one of them voted for the “wrong political party”. Friendships are being ended because of political disagreements. People are more open than anytime in modern history to using violence to push back those they disagree with. What happened?
For many years, my dad has been good friends with someone he has completely opposite political views from. Dad has always had a conservative, free-market view, while his friend was more supportive of a left-leaning party, supportive of unions and socialism. While they usually tried to avoid it, sometimes, they would inevitably be drawn into political discussions (especially after a couple beverages). Their discussions occasionally could be mildly heated, as you would expect for two people with diametrically opposed views.
So how did they deal with it? They moved on and let it be.
Yes, they were able to discuss different views without criticizing the character of the people they disagreed with, without yelling at each other, even without it really affecting their friendship. After the discussion was over, they’d move on and chat about other stuff. The benefit of this exchange was that each of them got a view from the other side. It may not have changed their minds. It may not have made them agree. But it did result in a slight softening of their stance – and, most important of all, to see someone they disagreed with as a human being.
In the world we live in, too often we forget that the person we disagree with is a person; someone with their own hopes and dreams, challenges and failures, inspirations and aspirations. A person with parents, siblings, even children of their own. A person who may have all kinds of reasons for feeling the way they do, for the viewpoints they have. A person who may have suffered, or may be suffering, from any kind of personal trauma or mental health challenges. Too often, we forget to use compassion and empathy.
I know the response you might be thinking: just because that person is good and has had challenges, that doesn’t make them right. And that is true. Sometimes, facts are black and white. If they’re wrong, they’re wrong, and they may not realize it. Just think about this: if you challenge them harshly, what do you suppose the odds are of them agreeing with you, or siding with you? A little compassion goes a long way.
Next time you have a disagreement with someone, don’t get so focused on how to prove them wrong that you forget about the fact that they may look at the world very differently from you. Don’t try and “cancel” someone just because they said something a long time ago that today looks wrong. Instead of all this, talk to them, and, as Steven Covey once so eloquently put it, seek first to understand, then to be understood.
If we’re going to deal with all the problems we currently face as a society, we have to re-learn the ability to talk to each other, to listen to each other, to seek some sort of compromise. We have to have compassion for each other. That doesn’t mean we back down from what we fundamentally believe in. People have always been passionate about their beliefs, and always should be. It means we have to be just as (or more) willing to listen as we are to share our own beliefs. Not one person among us on this planet has all the answers. If we listen to someone we might disagree with, we might just learn something we didn’t already know.
So next time you’re about to post that snarky reply on Twitter, take a moment and think about the person on the other side of that screen. And instead of having an argument, you just might be able to have a discussion.