The Planted Row: How we treat others impacts the world

Farm Forum

If you aren’t a regular reader of my column, you might have missed the edition in which I confessed I was farm boy turned engineering major turned English major. I tend not to overly stress the English major part of myself in this column, but it’s a huge part of who I am and how I think about the world.

You might be tempted to think that English majors spend all their time learning the intricacies of grammar. You’d be wrong. They spend all their time reading poetry and other literature. Some friends of mine who remained engineering majors didn’t understand why I would want to do that. They thought that the best way to solve the world’s problems was to help create new scientific and technological solutions. I had to agree with them; I think that advancing science and technology makes the world a better place.

But there’s another piece to the puzzle.

If we’re going to change the world, we need more than science. We can provide more food. We can provide better medical care. We can provide better technology to protect our bodies. We can provide better governments to protect people from each other. All of those things are necessary.

But if we really, truly want to make the world a better place, we also have to change how people treat other people. Doing that requires understanding the human condition. Studying the writings of the best observers of people — authors — throughout history is one way to understand the human condition. (It’s not the only way; just ask sociologists.)

To make my contribution to the world, I decided I’d help change how human beings saw each other and the world. I read and studied the greatest works of literature Western civilization has produced, and I graduated with a degree in English. I thought I’d end up teaching what I’d learned in hopes that I’d be helping people become more aware of their impact on each other.

However, my life took a different turn when I got married and soon had a baby on the way. Quickly, I realized there was yet another piece of the puzzle I’d been missing. Life isn’t just about changing the world for the better. Life is also about paying your bills and providing for your family. Rather than teach literature to students, I focused on a career that would provide me with a slightly better paycheck than your average English teacher. Before I arrived in Aberdeen, I had a career in book publishing. Now I have a career in newspaper publishing.

That doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten my original purpose when I switched to an English major. You might recall the number of times I’ve asked readers to act in ways that benefit others, not just themselves. This week I have been especially mindful that things other than our own bottom line matter in the world.

In this week’s edition of the Farm Forum, columnist Jane Green discusses the aftermath of the recent death of her son’s fiancé. The story is one of people helping people, and it’s a heart-warming moment in the face of tragedy.

Since reading that column, I’ve been thinking about the ways our lives can end or change completely in just a moment. Those moments remind me that it’s not the money in our bank accounts that matter. What matters is the people we love and our ability to connect with them and impact their lives in a positive way.

I’m reminded of a quote from one of my favorite movies, “Dead Poets Society.” In the movie, an English teacher says to his students, “Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

Beauty. Love. Those are big ones for me. They are worth protecting. They are worth growing. Where do you find beauty and love? Certainly, you find it in your family and friends. Perhaps even in a well-managed landscape. But do you find it elsewhere?

Do you find it in the young farm family trying to break into the industry by renting a piece of ground and growing a crop or raising a herd?

If so, how do you help protect that beauty? Do you negotiate a lower rent with that farmer to reflect the current commodities market? Do you sell land to that young farmer rather than put it up for auction? Do you share equipment? Do you find ways to work together to save both of you money?

I ask this because it seems we are in a down cycle right now, and with decreasing revenues, it will be tough for some farms to stay in business. The beauty that is farm life could become a little rarer in the world. So I can’t help but wonder how much of that can be minimized if we help each other out.