What would you do if you noticed a local celebrity sharing a blog post that calls into question your integrity? Would you respond with anger? With outrage? Or would you take a minute to calm yourself and respond with kindness and respect?
Recently, a local news anchor shared a post from Mercy for Animals on Facebook. Mercy for Animals is an animal rights group. Like all of these types of groups, Mercy for Animals campaigns for the cessation of all animal agriculture. They do so by sharing opinions that are biased and slanted against animal agriculture, using wording like this: “As shocking as it may seem, sexual assault and stealing babies are common in modern animal agriculture”. They share horrific videos of animal abuse, claiming that abuse is common practice on farms. And they promote a vegan diet that eliminates all animal products.
This local news anchor is a celebrity in her own right. She’s been featured on local television for nearly 20 years and has gained many well-earned accolades for her work. She is a respected advocate for Down Syndrome and blogs about her life as a mom of three. In short, she’s an esteemed and popular voice in British Columbia. As such, she has a large following on social media.
So you can imagine that when she shared that she was having misgivings about consuming dairy products after reading a Mercy for Animals blog post that accused dairy farmers of abusive practices, I was dismayed. In fact, I was hurt, upset, appalled and, truth be told, angry. Not at her, but at these animal rights groups. These groups smear my honor, my integrity. I’m proud of my life as a dairy farmer. I’m proud of the stellar care we give to our cows – our “girls” – 365 days of the year. And I’m proud to provide my fellow citizens with a nutritious product that was produced ethically and responsibly. I know that there is nothing un-ethical or cruel about the way our cows are treated on our family farm.
Happily, there was a saving grace in this post:
I read this post as a call for help, for assurance. I saw someone who desperately wanted to learn more about the food she served her family and consumed herself. I saw an opportunity. I could have responded with heated words and recriminations. And I saw some of those types of comments. But I calmed myself. This was not the time to be angry. This was the time to convince and reassure and support. It was a time to “err on the side of kindness”.
And, as it turns out, it was the right thing to do. I soon received this message:
This was huge. I was so excited. Success!
The next day, this appeared on her page:
The hours I spent responding to comments and accusations on this post was time well spent! If I had responded with anger and outrage, the conversation would have unfolded much differently and I might have lost the opportunity to inform and influence both this celebrity and her followers.
Now, I’m not sharing this to toot my own horn. I’m using this as an example of respect being a two way street. To gain respect, we must give respect, regardless of whether or not we agree with the person we are interacting with. This definitely applies to our conversations surrounding our farms and our way of life.
Consumer perception of dairy farming but also of dairy farmers will be a driving force behind our successes or our failures in the time to come. Take the recent mayhem over Earl’s ill-advised decision to abandon the Alberta beef industry as an example. This uproar showed that consumers support those they respect and value, and they obviously hold the Alberta beef industry in high regard. Would they do the same for the dairy industry? Time will tell as we begin to see more foreign dairy imports due to the recent trade deals.
In the meantime, as dairy farmers we would do well to remember that the general public has little to no knowledge of dairy farming. Perhaps they even have misgivings or misconceptions about our farms. It’s not. their. fault. The average Canadian is at least two generations removed from agriculture. What little they do know about dairy farming comes from information that they glean either via word of mouth or the internet and social media. Groups that oppose animal agriculture and the dairy industry take advantage of this gulf of ignorance, using it to promote their vision of a farm-animal-free “utopia” by using lies and half-truths to propagate fears and concerns about our industries.
Knowing this should influence how we interact with those who have genuine questions and concerns about the dairy industry. Do not interpret questions as accusations or concern as acrimony. Instead, use these apprehensions as opportunities to share your passion for your cows and your farms. Do not be afraid to allow your enthusiasm for your way of life to show clearly in these interactions. Your love for your animals and your land will drive consumer confidence and support, guaranteed. I’m not suggesting that you allow yourself to be subject to bullying or threats. If those types of comments are directed your way, move on and definitely do not stoop to that level. Hold yourself to a higher standard and you’ll advance your status and your credibility in the eyes of those who may be following the conversation from the sidelines.
Going forward, let this example that I’ve shared drive your motivation to interact with concerned consumers with kindness and respect. There’s enough hateful and horrid material coming from the animal rights’ camps. Countering that animosity and hostility with kind and polite interactions will help to gain respect and will also lend credence to your claims of proper and ethical animal care. In my opinion, that little golden rule exactly fits these situations: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Don’t you agree?
2 thoughts on “Respect is a Two-Way Street”
This was a very well written article. I have freinds who have a lambing barn open to the public each spring. I have have helped them with their lambing barn event educating people on the lamb industry. My friends see it as Ag Tourism and the neighbors see it as a money making scheme. I see it as keeping the connection from the farm to the fork. I see how close even my own family is losing its connection to the farm.
I find if you answer the questions honestly to the public they will respects the answers. Do the ewes have water in front of them all day during the day? No. If they did have water buckets they would be full of manure and they would be replacing the water all day. When you explain it to the public, they understand the ewes can go 6 hours without water. The question about their future, we explain this is a meat breed and the lambs will be going to slaughter. When the farm was have problems with prolapsed vaginias the farmer trusted the sheep with bale twine. Many of questions! Strait answers was all that was needed. Some of the older women would remark they remember those days! The farmer doesn’t sugar coat any thing. When a lamb is failing after birth and dies the public will ask questions. He reminds those people “Not all babies come home from the hospital!” A stark reality, some mothers lay their child in a grave and not in a crib. That doesn’t mean they are a bad mother or a bad woman. He has found some woman will tell stories of their own personal losses in the barn and sometimes it’s the first time they have ever talked about their loss.
As some of the neighbor farmers complain I remind them this lambing barn is a benifits to all of agriculture. I ask them if they are willing to open their farm to visitors and answer the questions. Most just mumble a response about making money with Ag tourism. We are all in this together and we need to show the public we are good stewards of our animals.
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What a great example of being transparent and open! We need many, many more of those types of farmers willing to open their barn doors to the public. The public needs to see our commitment to animal care, and being open to very public scrutiny is an excellent way to do that. Kudos to your friends for their efforts!