Did you know?

I’ve noticed that people who are trying to promote a cause always carry with them some of the most bizarre bits of information.  These are the attention-grabbers for the public: short, shocking, often horrifying sound bites that make readers read or news watchers watch or passersby pause and take notice.

For me, the most amusing aspect of such proclamations is how casually they are tossed out into the public waters for examination.  Few wonder who, precisely, took the time to uncover that statistic.  More importantly, who needs to know?  As an extreme example, I remember as a youngster watching one of those ‘you won’t believe it is true’ shows featuring a man who enjoyed in his free time paying obese women to sit on him.  That’s an odd hobby, certainly, but his justification struck me as even more absurd: human testicles can endure and survive many thousands of pounds of externally applied pressure (he, of course, had the actual number, I have forgotten it.)  Even at an early age I remember sitting and wondering what difference it made, because I’m pretty sure, even armed with the new information, very few people will suddenly join him in his high pressure games.  Yet, there he was, on television, getting ratings, grabbing attention with a great big ‘Did you know?’ statistic that made people look and listen.  (As an aside, my wife and I refuse to pay for television these days…content is lacking.)

Admittedly, shocking people with information (however bizarre) does pique their attention, thus providing more opportunity to promote whatever cause you’re pushing, yet I’m beginning to question the effectiveness of stunning people who live in a constantly stunned society.  Everything we read is negative or weird, written in hope of informing the masses of atrocities and thus inspiring countermeasures to alleviate the problem.   Start paying attention: each plea for help from any kind of institution is either preceded or followed by a short, horrifying ‘Did you know?’ fact that likely stirs you in one way or another.  I’ve found myself at times avoiding good causes because I can’t mentally handle any more bad news that’s intended to make me take action.  Then I feel bad about turning a blind eye, and frustrated about feeling bad about not participating, and…you get the idea.  I suspect I’m not alone in that reality.

What does any of this have to do with farming?  Quite a lot.  Growing and providing food is a hot-button issue that’s filled with such a huge amount of ‘Did you know?’ statistics we’re starting to repel people from the conversation.  Whether you’re on the big money tech-obsessed global agribusiness side of the equation or an enthusiastic participant in the localized economy of craft farming, you’re armed with bits of information ranging from environmental concerns to burgeoning population food requirements to human welfare atrocities to government blunders to atmospheric adjustments, all designed to shock, inform, and sway the masses to your side.  In a sense, all of us with a cause are a lot like the guy and his flattened nether-regions, providing weird pieces of information to try and justify our beliefs.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that issues should be swept under the rug and forgotten.  They’re extremely important and they need dedicated people to buckle down and fight for change they believe in.  What we often lose sight of and need to remember, though, is most people haven’t really thought about their food at all.  Nobody has to; it’s just there.  When someone who previously hasn’t devoted a lick of cognitive function to the stuff on their plate suddenly encounters a dirt-slinging doomsday fact battle in regard to eating, most will simply turn away again, choosing, as I have on certain subjects, blissful ignorance over agonizing arguments riddled with seemingly weird ‘facts’.  Progress stops when people can’t stand to participate.

Sometimes we try to inspire good by propounding bad.  The tactic gets attention, but it doesn’t always yield results we’re seeking.  It’s not hard to tell that society has no shortage of negative pressure applied liberally on a daily basis; what people intrinsically need is something good without a negative counterbalance.  There’s the conundrum of every cause: each organization has a need that needs fixed, yet, how do we act on it without falling into the same doomsday fact trap as everyone else?

I think we need to study what needs changed and react by being good at being good and not participating in the bad.  It’s far more encouraging to say ‘You can participate in the rejuvenation of the town you love simply by making the effort to spend dollars at local farms and businesses’ than ‘Did you know that rural America is declining into an unproductive, drug addicted state of chaos that’s costing lives and millions of taxpayer dollars because corporations have centralized in urban areas and used their efficiency of scale to screw the little guy out of business?  If you don’t buy local, you’re participating in the destruction.’ 

See the difference? Both convey the same message, but the former sounds much more attractive.The positive inference makes it easier for curious outsiders to gradually participate, and it might even help with our collective mood: did you know that our brains aren’t wired to accommodate continual negativity? The negative stress causes depression and…oh, wait.