You don't have to attend every argument
By Jennifer M. Latzke
Someone once told me that I don't have to attend every argument to which I'm invited.
And by "someone," I mean both of my parents, my two siblings, and every boyfriend I've had since high school.
As a self-confessed stubborn mule I never really understood this saying until about a month ago when I sat down on my flight from Phoenix to Dallas.
My seatmate's name was Claire (name changed, of course), she had a career in the high priced real estate industry, she was on her second marriage and visiting her family in Dallas, she volunteered with a pet rescue, and she fervently believed in spiritualism and in the power of "The Wheat Belly Diet."
All I wanted was to take a nap. Instead, I was shoved into a close-quarters situation that could erupt into a horrible argument. I sat there for about 10 minutes politely listening to her ramble, trying to decide--do I follow my instinct, interrupt her and begin telling her all the ways she's wrong or do I just sit quietly and avoid the confrontation?
And, just when I decided to RSVP my regrets to this potential argument, Claire took a breath. She paused and asked the question, making up my mind for me. "So, what do you do?" In an instant I knew that I wouldn't get that nap.
"I live in Dodge City. I grew up on a farm and ranch. And now I write for a farm and ranch publication that covers agriculture in 12 states with 50,000 or so subscribers."
Silence. Her attention zeroed in and I was fully prepared to have to ask the flight crew to reassign me a different seat. After all, not many folks who have those beliefs are, well, able to politely carry on a conversation about them. This had the potential to get messy.
But Claire surprised me. For the next hour or so as we flew across the fly-over states, she and I had an honest conversation about a lot of topics, from hormones in meat to gluten in wheat, from pharmacology to biotechnology.
She worried about humane livestock production methods and I paraphrased my favorite line from Dr. Dan Thomson at K-State, "Well, we aren't out here raising 1,500-pound lap dogs. They have a purpose. It isn't to be a pet." I told her about touring Tyson in Garden City. And I patiently told her about how methods that we use on the ranch and in the feedlot have undergone decades of scientific research to improve animal health and ultimately productivity.
Claire asked about the difference in "organic," "natural," and "genetically modified," and because of my conversations with organic growers and biotech researchers I was able to help her understand the confusing terminology.
The more we talked, the further back I reached in my quote arsenal from my sources. I found out that she didn't realize that farmers and ranchers are "price-takers, not price-makers." (Thanks, Dr. Barry Flinchbaugh.) I learned she didn't understand basic biology concepts. Instead, she was an avid self-help reader who relied on authors and marketers to educate her.
Finally, I approached the sacred cow--the wheat belly question. And, I shared with her what I learned from talking to wheat breeders like Brett Carver at Oklahoma State. She had a ton of questions about how wheat is developed, how it's grown, and how it's processed. I told her that I wasn't a scientist, but I'd talked to enough of them to get a good picture about their work. And, that no one was in a conspiracy to poison the public, despite what she'd read.
Claire took it all in stride. She asked follow-up questions. She had never met someone who actually had walked in a feedlot in Garden City, Kan., or had toured a dairy in Hereford, Texas. She'd never had the chance to ask questions, and she was taking the full hour of our flight to make up for lost time.
We landed, and as we taxied to the gate I gave Claire my card and told her to call me or email me any time if she had more questions. If I didn't know the answers, I knew the credible people who did.
I realized on my way to the next gate for my connecting flight that by keeping quiet and not immediately chastising Claire for her ignorance, I wound up having a better opportunity to educate her.
No one likes to be told that they're wrong, and then have the ways they're criminally ignorant ticked off on a chart. But, by sharing a piece of my career, by looking into her eyes and communicating with her, I gave Claire another source for information than some author trying to sell a book.
Who knows if I reached her or not? Maybe she'll continue to believe that hormones in beef are the cause of early puberty (they're not) or that modern wheat is poison (it isn't). But I keep looking at my email and hoping that someday I'll get that note from her asking about another topic.
All in all, it wasn't a bad waste of an in-flight nap.
Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807, or firstname.lastname@example.org.