A couple years ago I was at an event where a fellow Farm Bureau staffer from another state lamented he spent so much of his time dealing with the legislative process, there wasn’t much of a chance to really fight for agriculture.
I certainly admired his passion, but I believe “fight” was an unfortunate word to use. I’m not suggesting political fights aren’t necessary, rather I think they should be treated like real fights and saved for the rare instances when other options have been exhausted.
Both passion and perspective are required to effectively engage in politics. Far too often we are led to believe passion is equal to rage and rage is evidence of righteousness. The problem is rage overpowers our ability to reason, overwhelms our logical capabilities and overthrows our perspective.
People get so worked up looking for a fight, they begin tilting at windmills and let true threats go by unnoticed. Immediate gratification and instantaneous reaction supersedes information gathering and seeking deeper understanding. Part of this is most of us only have a limited understanding of what’s going on outside of our immediate lives. Sometimes just keeping track of my wallet and keys seems like a full-time job, let alone navigating the daily workings of a county commission, state legislature and the federal government’s vast bureaucracy. Never mind the social media rabbit trail I get lost on for hours at a time.
The problem with only having just the surface-level view of issues is we’re swayed by our previous experiences. As humans we’re hardwired to fill in gaps with our biases and prejudices. That serves you well when you’re walking through the woods and see something slithering along the trail.
Humans use the same fight or flight response when dealing with each other. We see safety in those who think and act in similar ways to ourselves, and we perceive danger in those who don’t. Nowhere is this more true than on social media.
These platforms are great for a variety of things but fostering a deeper understanding of political issues isn’t one of them. People allow their emotions and experiences to drive the discussion once a position is taken. We then ascribe all sorts of ulterior motives to those with different ideas as insular tribes form around issues and devolve into fights because this is the surface level of political discussion we see on TV.
In reality, even the smallest issues are incredibly complex, and solutions are difficult even in areas where there’s broad consensus. Our instinct is to perceive disagreement as a threat, which tricks us into believing we have two options: fight or flight.
There’s actually a third option and that’s to allow for uncertainty. It’s OK to believe those who disagree with you are sincere in their beliefs. Their experiences, biases and prejudices have led them to different policy prescriptions. But they are still human and experience all of the same emotions you do.
Fighting consumes not only time and energy, but also credibility. Brawling over every issue is a good way for others to quickly ignore you. Engagement requires perspective, logic and reason. And perseverance.
The best way to fight for agriculture is to develop a passion for the mundane things like talking to legislators and policy makers about our experiences, taking the time to provide feedback on issues that affect us, becoming educated on the issues before us and, maybe the most difficult of all, keeping our minds open to new ideas. We won’t resolve every issue, but these are the necessary steps before gearing up for a real fight.