PETA vitriol reminding us to be kinder to humans

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Social media has opened the door for everyone to have an opinion, and too often showcase just how nasty we can be to each other.  So when I got Airlie Trescowthick – Founder of Farm Table newsletter this week and reached the section on feedback they received on this Facebook post a little piece of me died. This wonderful team of people doing such awesome job on behalf of farmers being attacked by farmers.

I had glanced at the original post briefly, smiled and moved on. What on earth could possibly generate all this vitriol?

Some responses against the content of the post stated:

  • “Why are we quoting and promoting such an anti-farming group from a group called Farm table? If nobody took notice of their stupidity, they would have no platform and no following to do the extreme damage they do. Disappointed, to say the least.”
  • “I hope this bullshit is just a joke? Surely? If not then you need to eliminate your cottonwool wrapped fairy genes out of the genepool. Seriously, get a grip!”
  • “Not worth the oxygen they breathe”.

Some of the language used was violent and directed slander at PETA and/or Farm Table.

I come from a family that doesn’t do difficult conversations full stop and it remains a skill set I have failed to master. Great article here on why its important and how to do it here. As the second article reminds us the language we use in conversations matters and the importance of not letting our emotions dictate our delivery.

Here is a further cut and paste of the section from Airlie’s newsletter

‘Last week, we shared PETA’s new phrases to replace common ones in our vernacular. As expected, the feedback we received was incredibly polarising. What was most striking to us was how people shared their respective view points –  comments I received from fellow producers or people involved in ag in support of the language change were written in a very measured, thoughtful and practical manner, whereas those against were often very rude and used shocking and defamatory language.

However, those respondents that chose to contact me directly via email raised some very valid and salient points that I also wanted to share here to see another viewpoint.  For example, I received one email that read, ‘We should all endeavour to undertake continuing education to keep evolving and improving the lives of animals in our care rather than languishing in the dark ages. Is it unreasonable to say “feeding a fed horse” rather than “flogging a dead horse” (because the horse was flogged to death in the first place by an unethical owner)? A positive spin is far more uplifting than a negative one. In future, I hope you can use the well-meaning observations of those that sit at one end of the spectrum to impact on poor practices that, sadly, are still occurring at the other end of the spectrum!”

Whilst I do not agree with many methods and campaigns PETA adopts, I completely agree with these comments and that opening up a positive dialogue around continuous improvement is vital. It also showed that you can sit on whatever side of the fence you would like, but the ability to explain and communicate your stance is so important. What is not useful is name calling and viciousness and last week shows that we are still a long way from having open dialogue in the public realm. Measured and thoughtful comments like those above did not make the public realm on social media for fear of bullying and trolling. How can we endeavour to move forward on issues like this? Part of Farm Table and Farmer Exchange’s role is to be a space to have open debate in a safe environment – we know the importance of this now more than ever.’

I have made my thoughts clear on PETA in the past but this post isn’t about PETA,  its about us, HUMANS learning to be kinder to each other.

I reached out to Graeme McElligott who practices veganism and is the founder of “Aussie Farmers and Vegans Connecting” for his thoughts

” PETA’s recent tweet in regard to the use in common talk of phrases that trivialise cruelty or harms to other animals makes sense when considered from the point of view that it’s worthwhile choosing to be kind when we can. Our choice of language – the words we use each and every day – can say a lot about our attitudes, beliefs and even actions. Choosing words and phrases with positive overtones surely is better than those that express negative sentiments. So in a sense, PETA’s suggestion encourages us to examine our own attitudes and prejudices.

Yet on the whole, the reaction I have seen to PETA’s proposal has been largely negative. One might have thought vegans and animal advocates would have welcomed the suggestion yet even in those quarters there has been considerable outrage. The main complaints seem to revolve around questions of relevancy (“who cares”), to bringing animal advocacy into disrepute (“PETA makes us look like fools”) and to inappropriate or even irresponsible conflating of issues (“comparing these phrases to those that contribute to institutionalised racism or gender inequality etc is just wrong”). I can’t claim to have spent a lot of time monitoring this whole brouhaha, but my overall sense of it is that PETA didn’t receive a positive reaction from either vegans or non-vegans.

That’s disappointing. Because really, when it boils down to it, PETA has just asked us to think about how our actions and words affect others. In this case, the words and phrases are those that make light of the suffering of our fellow animals and to be honest, I rather hope that most of us don’t really wish to be unsympathetic to how animals can and should be treated best. Whether people choose to take PETA up on its suggestion probably isn’t that important. What I think is more valuable is the discussion it might provoke and the concern it expresses. What exactly is wrong with choosing language that utilises more positive views of our relationship with other animals? Should we rather use “flogging a dead horse” over “feeding a fed horse” and if so why? If it is just a matter of tradition it seems to me that we might think about whether this is a tradition we can dispense with.

So, if the real intent behind PETA’s tweet was to provoke more genuine consideration and debate about how we treat other animals, I feel it’s rather ironic that the backlash online was so vitriolic. The very thing PETA was highlighting characterised so much of the online discussions and that’s a shame. It’s a shame because I think we all lose when we take that path.

British philosopher Philip Kitcher in his book “The Ethical Project” suggests that humans have been involved in what he terms an ethical ‘project’ since our earliest times. His explanation for how and why we have ethical attitudes is that we have always come together as communities to fix failures of altruism. More to the point, it’s through genuine discussion and debate about the issues that confront us all that has guided this ethical project and the many real positive changes our civilisations have made. Whether he’s right or not in an historical sense is open to debate but I think he makes a good point. It is possible and I think preferable for us to come together in good will to share ideas, to listen openly and  honestly to each others’ views and to subject our own beliefs to scrutiny.

How can we make progress, develop better ways to tackle the trickier aspects of our societies and create stronger communities if our automatic reaction is to laugh at, deride or even dismiss those with whom we disagree? The world of social media has elevated this kind of disagreement almost to an art form and I reckon it’s not quite what Professor Kitcher has in mind. The truth is we can make better progress and develop stronger ties between different elements of our communities by being willing to consider what others have to say. We learn more by listening and talking, not by bullying.

PETA represents a particular view of the world and while we may have our disagreements with the organisation and its methods, at the end of the day I think this one tweet has opened us to a difficult conversation. A conversation between farmers and vegans, animal advocates and the livestock industry, between producers and consumers, perhaps even between farmer and farmer. All too often this conversation has been dominated by the negative, but there are signs for change. Vegans and farmers have come together to discuss various perspectives and beliefs on Facebook pages, the agricultural sector has shown itself increasingly aware of the need to meet with and be sensitive to community expectations, farming groups have developed initiatives to help build genuine channels for communication between agriculture and consumer (for example Farm Table, Art4Agriculture and This Is Aus Ag).

With the challenges facing society in the not so distant future – such as how to sustainably feed a global population of 9 billion and the impacts and effects of climate change – now more than ever it is important for us to create honest and respectful conversations. Conversations that might build closer ties across diverse groups with diverging views and help us move forward on these big issues. I saw an example of this positive approach on Facebook recently. A group in the UK called Friends Not Food regularly hold vigils at the Tulip Slaughterhouse in Westerleigh, hoping to raise awareness in regard to animal exploitation and suffering. This group invited slaughterhouse management and staff to join them for a vegan Christmas dinner, which apparently many attended. That is a real example of reaching out, building shared stories and promoting open, honest communication.

I truly think we can do this.”

Successful 21st century businesses rely on teams that are creative, collaborative, adept at problem solving and have the capacity to have difficult conversations that have a positive effect on the team.

I salute Airlie and Graeme who have mastered the art of difficult conversations. I am still learning how and I look forward to many others in agriculture joining me on the journey.

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Highly recommended reading The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

 

 

This week in retrospect – the beautiful and the ugly

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Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver. And our world could stand to be a little kinder and braver. Brene Brown.

Social media showcases the extremes in people’s behaviour and values and the extremes can be both very beautiful and inspiring  and very ugly and depressing.

Senator Penny Wong modelled beautiful and inspiring  this week when she said this about the rescue mission in Thailand

“Isn’t it just wonderful news, and what a wonderful relief for parents, particularly for family and friends,” Senator Wong said.

“But can I say this? In a world where we see a lot of bad news, a lot of tragedy, isn’t it wonderful to see the power of co-operation and the lengths people will go to, the courage people will show, to help a fellow human being, and I think it is a cause for inspiration and optimism.” Source The Australian

She retweeted this beautiful tribute to Former Thai navy seal Saman Guana who died at Tham Luang cave.

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and then there is this. What can I say beyond this that its  #NASTY #ABHORRENT #UNNECESSARY #POORTASTE

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and then I read about Steve Parish .  Wildlife photographer Steve Parish went from mansion to shed, but has found a new focus. His photos have always wowed me. Now his new ethos inspires me. Steve says it’s important to work on yourself to become a great photographer.

“You need to do more work on yourself than on your creative skills — you really need to know who you are and where you want to go with your photography,” he said.

“If you want to bring some sort of refocus to humanity, then you are already successful, but if you go along the path of ‘look at me’, you will just be one of 1.6 billion people uploading to social media everyday … and best of luck to you. We all really need to be in charge of our own joy.”

I am keen to be in charge of my own joy and encouraging a culture of people being kind to each other.

 

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Rudderless Dairy – makes my heart bleed

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Marian McDonald was a gusty woman when she took on the family farm in 2008. She bought a refreshing feistiness to dairy conversations. She is a champion of the grass roots, is not afraid to tackle the tough issues in her blog MilkMaid Marian, she asks the questions that need to be asked of people who should have the answers and she has the courage of her convictions

Today she gives her thoughts on John Mulvaney’s opinion piece in The Weekly Times in her post Disillusioned Dairy  

Mike Logan the former CEO of Dairy Connect also reflected on the state of the Australian Dairy Industry in Nov last year in his opinion piece Australian Dairy has Lost its Rudder.

Mike says

The leadership challenge of the Australian dairy industry has increased to a level that I believe is insurmountable without significant government intervention. I am not a supporter of government intervention.

Unfortunately, the time has come.

…..

The hubris of the board and senior executives of MG ( Murray Goulburn) has left the Victorian dairy industry – and by association, the Australian dairy industry – without a guiding rudder. The Victorians are at sea and going nowhere and are hoping for tides or winds to take them.

….

Put simply, the end of the era of co-operatives has allowed the processors to control the industry. Presently, there is no unity between the farmers and the processors. Many will blame the supermarkets but the numbers don’t support that view. It is not Colesworth.

The leadership challenge is within the industry itself. Specifically, the leadership challenge is with the farm sector of the dairy industry.

…….

The ship is at sea, rudderless.

It is tawdry to note that the current Chairman of the ADF is also an ex-chairman and I believe a current Director of WCB. Another Director is from Fonterra. Most of the ADF’s budget is channelled through the processors. Clearly, the processors control the farmer’s representative body.

Mike comes from an industry with a highly successful farmer leadership lobby model in Cotton Australia. As a former Chairman of the Board of the Cotton Research and Development Corporation he bought a breath of fresh air, a wealth of experience and drive and like Marian feistiness to the dairy industry.

In his opinion piece Mike proffers the following solutions

What should the ADF do?

The ADF is the focal point of the leadership challenge. The ADF needs to reform itself into a functional & efficient dairy farmer representative body.

What should the Government do?

The government is rightly reluctant to interfere in industry policy and strategy. Governments all hope to be guided by an industry with a unified approach to the challenges of the future. When governments are forced into these positions they usually deliver blunt and inelegant solutions. Often, there are deleterious impacts from the unintended consequences of government interference in industry policy.

The Government is now at a point where it has to assume that role. The government has to free up the relationship between the farmers and the processors by addressing the focal point of the relationship – the contracts.

You can read the full piece here  It makes one hell of a lot of sense

My thoughts on farmer leadership in dairy?

As some-one who did put their hand up for roles on farmer lobby groups I agree with Marian. We wear out our champions. The majority of us are under-prepared from a governance, negotiation skills and general whole of supply chain knowledge capacity to make the changes required.  I was one of those under-prepared. ADF has some fresh blood and now has funding to build leadership capacity for our farmers. I look forward to them using it wisely. I look forward to our farmers seeking out the successful models, asking the right questions, being prepared to listen and feeling confident they have the skills and the support of their fellow farmers to take the Australian Dairy Industry to the heights it deserves

Added note. Another hugely successful farmer lobby group model is Farmers for Climate Action I know why this model works so well. It would be a very exciting day if  Australian dairy farmers embraced this model. Look out world

 

 

“Showgirl” – when we ask ourselves what do we hold dear – the outcome or the moniker?

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The Land Showgirl Competition means so much to many young women in agriculture I work with.  Yet is struggles to gain the respect it deserves. Others ask is the name “Showgirl” doing the competition more harm than good? My take is the competition is very relevant – the name no longer

Excellent work WinNews with this coverage.

Showgirls have been a staple at the Sydney Royal Easter Show since 1962; however, questions have been raised as to whether the competition is relevant in today’s society. We follow one Showgirl’s journey from paddock to podium to find out.

Australian agriculture is full to the brim with exciting young people

Never in my life have I been so proud to pass the ball, exchange the baton, give a voice to NextGen as I was when the Australian Farm Institute invited me to speak at their Roundtable in 2017 as the day I passed the baton to Young Farming Champion Dione Howard. Five minutes is a very short time to get your message across. Let alone do it with so much power.

It is such a ridiculous furphy that Australian agriculture is seen and promoted as a sunset industry full of old grey haired men. Dione is just one example of the 1000’s of exciting and dynamic young people in the agriculture sector. Time to celebrate Sunrise. This report is just a drop in the ocean of exciting young people who see agriculture as their future.

#strongertogether #youthvoices18   #youthinag

The Land – objectifying women in agriculture as breeding stock is not 21st Century thinking

The Power of the Blog – so pleased to see The Land step up and update their article post my original blog.

Nikki is a very worthy winner and The Land’s updated post now shares with the world her values and her willingness to develop her skills to benefit her community. Look forward to the full story in this week’s Land

 

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#strongwomen #strongertogether

People forgive but they rarely forget

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Forgiving someone is easy, but being able to trust them again is a totally different story

As Malcolm Turnbull prepares his apology to the survivors of Sexual Abuse   I had a stark reminder of how the pain never goes away

When the CSIRO removed this stunning time lapse video of a cotton boll opening from their website I loaded it on ours

Yesterday this comment appeared

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I am confident you will agree forgiving and forgetting is great in theory, but in reality it’s difficult. Lets not beat ourselves up if we don’t achieve both.  Forgiving allows us to move on but we don’t forget either, so we can take the valuable life lessons with us.

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