The New Wild, Wild West

Within the past year, a friend gave me some fun books to read by Louis L’Amour.  I quickly became a huge fan, reading them fast and happily. Perseverance, entrepreneurialism, heroism, good over evil. The romanticism of what those years were. I won’t get into the sad parts or the parts where people were mean to people. But the books covered this to some extent, too.  We know that there were bad times and difficult, (true) stories about how people treated each other. This is still true today. It just looks a little different.

I had lunch with a friend recently and we were talking about all kinds of things. She brought up the (romanticized) vision of the wild west. How we love stories about people overcoming hardships. How it gives you a sense of pride when you think about what people have overcome over the course of history to build something positive with their own hands. The very things I liked about reading those books.

The world is changing, but our desire to see the underdog succeed is the same.

People still overcome great obstacles.

People are still mean to each other.

People are still good to each other.

Food is incredibly personal even as we are now so disconnected from growing it.

The tools and opportunities we have now are different. The choices are greater yet some of the very same things that alter the course of our food supply remain the same. Farmers still battle the weather, care for the soil and other natural resources, choose what is best to grow/raise for the area and farm they are on, and try to make a living to support their family. Many people used to raise/grow much of their own food. Now they are moving to urban areas. Social media makes it easier to tell stories, both true and false. Technology makes it easier to do almost everything, in both rural and urban areas.

Food and technology (smart phones, improved cars, new light bulbs, you get the idea) are complex topics.  They can unite and divide us at the same time and sometimes even in the same conversation. I talked to a farmer friend last week, and it occurred to me as she talked about some of the challenges she faces on her small family farm, that the population as a whole needs permission.  To be happy and take care of themselves. To be kind to each other, celebrate differences, find common ground. Maybe most important of all? Permission to know that it’s ok – and even desired – to be curious.

Ask farmers questions. Ask dietitians questions. Ask veterinarians questions. Ask environmentalists questions.  Why do you think people like the Apple store so much? I think part of it is because they made it cool to ask questions.  It starts from a positive mindset. You go into the store thinking you are going to get the answer you need.

If you don’t know why something is done the way it is, whether it’s food or agriculture related or other topics, ask. Questions asked from a foundation of curiosity are so much fun. People like to share knowledge for the most part because it strengthens an organization and relationships (we all know some knowledge hoarders, but that’s a story for another time).  To get to the real story, ask the right person. It’s easy to google something, but filters may mean you aren’t seeing all the possibilities to an answer. It’s easy to ask a friend or scour social media to find information.

The trick is finding the information from the best source, not the loudest voice.

What if we channel our energy to the curiosity of an unknown versus the fear of it?

What if we assumed positive intent from others (for the most part) first?

It’s going to take all of us to make this shift in thinking happen – to approach topics we don’t know about in a new way. This to me is the new wild west for us: Conquering information and using it to the best of our ability for ourselves and for the greater good.

What steps are you going to take this week to be more curious?

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