Changing people’s minds is not as easy as one might think

He hemmed and hawed, eventually settling on something decidedly less hoppy than the double-IPA I ordered.

We hadn’t chatted in person for a while. He’s an agriculture writer, too, and he is interested in many of the same existential characteristics of the agriculture industry as I am. Before you think, “there goes Toban, summoning words for his philosophy textbooks again,” by “existential” I merely mean the parts of farming that are hard to quantify and qualify. Public trust fits under this banner, as does social license and the rural/urban divide.

We got right into it. It wasn’t my intention to use him for a column, but let’s give him a name. Let’s call him Jay. I was discussing a pet peeve of mine with him — the way the industry talks about changing people’s minds.

“If they’d only see a working farm, then they’d better understand why we do what we do,” is a statement/sentiment I told Jay I’d heard way too often.

This is a point I will make as often as I am allowed: people’s minds don’t change that easily. As an exercise — and I have found this to be the key to many of life’s great mysteries — take your views on the Liberal Party of Canada and then take your views on the Conservative Party of Canada and then consider what it would take for you to switch support.

If you’re being honest, you’ll see what I’m talking about.

We group things together. It’s easier that way. In agriculture, public/consumer and farmer/producer are used an awful lot. What should be known is that these words are linguistic conveniences.

There isn’t enough time in the day for me to identify every person in the grocery store and question them on what’s in their grocery baskets and why they chose organic carrots over non-organic carrots. No. Instead, I never leave my home office and I just refer to them as, you guessed, consumers.

This is grossly unfair. Every person is different. This should not be a controversial point to posit, but it is a point we too easily forget.

People should surprise us and we certainly should never claim to have all of them figured out.

I have made many assumptions about people during this pandemic, but more often than not, I have been wrong.

One character, in particular, humbled me. I had intentionally avoided chatting about the pandemic or politics with him in fear of either topic being met with an uncomfortable level of zealotry.

He brought up vaccinations. I mustered some courage and listened. He immediately surprised me. We were standing together, outside, on my farm, in winter, and while he had my ear he described in great detail his views on the matter. They were rational and respectful and quite centrist. More so, and apart from whether I agreed with him or not, they were not what I was expecting.

Navigating the challenge of informing people about agriculture is easier when consumers are one person but also everyone who buys groceries.

As we were leaving I noticed a couple at the next table who farm a few miles from me.

I immediately became aware that I had just spent the better part of an hour talking about farmers and their tendency to generalize, all the while — yep — generalizing farmers.

I jokingly apologized for what he must have heard from our table. He politely claimed to not have heard a thing and the whole encounter smacked of irony (if I am using the word correctly).

Toban Dyck is a farmer in southern Manitoba and experienced agriculture and food opinion writer.