The Futility of Demanding Respect



I recently watched a movie about two journalists who wrote for competing papers during the holiday season. As it was long before social media, the journalists received handwritten letters of thanks or disagreement. It struck me then, that our technology has evolved at a pace that our expressions of gratitude maybe can’t keep up with.  If you’ve ever received a hand-written letter, you know what I’m talking about. There’s something incredibly special about holding in your hands, the very paper that your sender held in his or hers.  Every stroke of their pen took time, and shovelling the sidewalk in order to get out and mail it, took even more.

Today, a lengthy email is uncommon, and though a simple, 140 character message has the potential to convey emotion well, it seldom does, and we are much more inclined to write messages in defence or disagreement than in appreciation. The less time we take to write a response, the less time our subject will take to understand it. In all of this, we often feel misunderstood and under-appreciated. The world is at our fingertips now, and so we feel it should be easier for the world to reach out and say thanks.

And thus, I am led to the subject I have wanted to address for ages: #thankafarmer

As I fed the cows last winter, I remember rolling my eyes at the “#thankafarmer” movement. I scrolled through tweets, and though some were sweet, truly appreciative messages from people outside our industry, most appeared to be a plea from producers and others involved in the agriculture industry. “Thank me,” they screamed. “Please,” they begged. “Understand me,” they insisted.

Well, the holidays are swiftly approaching, and I have an idea. In every other industry, salespeople encourage their employees to understand that the consumer is always right, and to appreciate and thank that consumer. We’ve gone the other direction, to say the consumer is seldom right, and they should appreciate producers more…

Every time I have ever explained my role as a farmer then ag-journalist to those “removed from their food,” they have been wowed. There is a huge respect for our industry already, even if there are disagreements and misunderstandings (which, by the way, come with every other line of business as well – and if approached with an open mind can actually lead to improved practices, better relationships and the evolution of an industry).

Would we have even considered developing animal codes of practice, if it weren’t for the intense interest consumers have in humane production practices? We didn’t always agree on soil management tactics, but a few open-minded individuals drove an entire industry towards reduced-till. Steps in the right direction for agriculture, no?

Back to my idea. In your conversations with those you consider “consumers” (a word I’ve challenged already), take a moment to express gratitude.

“But Debra,” you say, “I often talk to consumers who don’t understand food production and are completely ignorant to farming practices.” The outcome of a specialized society, no doubt? Just as I have no idea where my clothes come from… Shouldn’t we be flattered so many are interested in learning more? A simple, “I’m impressed you’re so interested in agriculture!” will go a lot further in finding common ground than a straight-up argument.

And it’s not just that. Like it or not, many of those very consumers have a lot to offer. Some have extensive knowledge in water and resource management, others in social patterns, transportation or nutrition and health. “Farm to fork” or “paddock to plate” doesn’t rely solely on the work of farmers. Food production, distribution and management starts even before the tractor’s engine does, and ends long after we lift that fork. And it’s more complicated than that; it’s built on a web of interactions. Even journalists have a role in it all… 😉

I guess all I’m saying is: demanding respect is an endeavour as futile as milking a bull, and as wonderful as it is to be recognized, it’s much more rewarding to appreciate the input of others.

So, whether you’re looking to start a conversation with someone or showing respect in a disagreement, don’t be too proud to express gratitude, rather than demand it. And, if you really do feel under-appreciated, I can guarantee you will feel better, and in many cases you will actually receive thanks as a result of your own.

Let me know how it goes!

This post originally appeared on The Effeminate Farmer.

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