Communication Lessons from Twitter Discussions, Bingo and Cows

Follow-up to last Tuesday’s transcript of a two-hour Twitter conversation on animal agriculture with folks who vehemently disagree with what I do.

I was once told by friends in Pennsylvania that they considered the Midwestern “I” states (Indiana, Illinois and Iowa) to be bingo-playing states because, after all, what else is there to do out here?

So, here we go. Here is Carnist Bingo, played during my conversation last Tuesday with vegan activists on Twitter.

What vegans use when listening to arguments from meat-eaters. I have lost the source of the picture, as it came from Twitter. However, a Google search will find multiple versions of this Bingo card.
What vegans use when listening to arguments from meat-eaters. I have lost the source of the picture, as it came from Twitter. However, a Google search will find multiple versions of this Bingo card.

Definitely used Circle of Life and God and respect animals, saw abortion mentioned by one of the farmers who responded to one of the conversation threads, and saw demonstrations of not caring about people through a comment to a nurse and farmer’s wife on Twitter, which said, “Hope that plane doesn’t crash…karma does come calling when you have abused many animals for your own gain” (the woman to which the tweet was aimed does not have livestock; her farm raises row crops). Sustainable and responsible was implied with my conservation tweets. And I’ll have more as we go through here.

(“Meat gave us big brains?” What does that even mean?)

Overall, the conversation was frustrating. I enjoy robust discussions with plenty of citations and logical arguments. This was not the way to have one (if “discussion” is the correct word to use to describe what happened last week). The medium (Twitter) was fine, one I enjoy using, but the comments I received back were often militant. Even anonymity via the Internet does not give permission to hurl insults. I am for choice of diet, but I am not for attacking others because they don’t eat like I do, even if I don’t understand the reasoning behind it all.

Each time I tried to explain my overall creed, I felt like I was cut off and taken in a different direction, even when I was asked to explain why I do what I do. (“You’re given two options of diet and take the one with killing and torture – I genuinely want to know why”) Sometimes, I just wanted to say, I promise I’m a nice person! But that wouldn’t have gotten anywhere at all.

I worked through the conversation a couple of days after it happened and wanted to respond to some of the statements that were made. With this post, I don’t have a whole lot of scientific citations, I just wanted to write some of my thoughts down and let out some of the thoughts that have been in my head for the last week. (Let’s all sing: “Let it go, let it go!”) I broke down the conversation and included some quotes and my reaction to them, as well as some points about the language that should be used during discussions:

  • First thing: Using names incorrectly in a Twitter debate (any debate, really) can demonstrate a lack of control and condescension. I am being chastised as a small child. Be careful when using my name. Condescension does not go over well.
  • Also, regarding pronouns: The use of “you” assumes a lot about the audience. It’s being “preachy”: “Your life isn’t right,” “You need to lose weight,” “You must stop reading this blog immediately.” When I served as a graduate teaching assistant for an undergrad writing course, I told the class to avoid using “you” in papers because the audience would be turned off. Tone is a difficult aspect of communication to convey through the written word, and overall, the use of “you” automatically brings a tone of self-righteousness on the part of the speaker. The best practice is to use inclusive language, such as we, or use personal stories. I did my best to use inclusive language or “I.” I know I had once or twice where I said, “You’ll…” Many of the statements in this list include “you” and the tone often comes across disrespectfully. So, in conclusion, when using social media or giving a presentation, be judicious in the use of “you.”
  • “You should be ashamed, Elise!”: I have been told this before in reference to Penn State and the 2011 Sandusky debacle (I was in grad school there at the time). This is another phrase used to chastise a child when they have been engaged in some wrongdoing. Why I was told that when I was at Penn State, I don’t really understand, I wasn’t involved in the scandal. But here, telling me to be ashamed of my occupation is not going to go over well in a discussion that should be measured and calm as everyone explains their points of view.
  • “Stop saying ‘care’ as if you don’t kill them at the end of it. I don’t ‘care’ about you if I’m gonna shoot you after.”: When I read that, I was taken aback. Seemed pretty graphic. The next day, the same person tagged me in a tweet saying she didn’t approve of the comment about crashing crashing in the plane, saying, “If they’re gonna stand up for a good cause, no point being violent about it.”
  • “Are you really though? Where do you try and stop suffering?”: I stop suffering when I see a little child hurt; a friend crying; an animal limping. I am not incapable of doing great good because I am only one human; I have so much potential and responsibility of doing great good because I am human.
  • “No, I mean apart from your farming do you sign petitions and join groups actively doing things. Not career”: This was deeply personal. “Farming and your career does not matter,” was the message I took from that statement. “It does not stop suffering.”  Yet, signing petitions and joining groups means nothing if we don’t start with helping those who are suffering next to us.
  • “Least thats something. Now just the rest of the world to go – or are we doing that for you :/”: This was a reply to my statement that research is being done to find solutions to challenges the agriculture community faces and follow-up statements saying that I was a member of the local sheep association. I really don’t know that I have words for this one. Again, deeply personal.
  • “A community that kills when you have the option not to”: There are several images that come to mind here, such as the Twilight Zone or a movie where people in a village that doesn’t let them go. These pictures are the opposite of my family and other farmers I know.
  • “Seriously Elsie – you think they were designed for our convenience? I don’t believe in speciesism.” Again with the name, which wasn’t even the right one. Also, a quick point about debate here: using phrases such as “seriously?” and “you think?” will repel the person on the other side of the debate and cause them to question the other debater’s credibility. A speaker proves himself or herself to be a trustworthy source in part because of the way information is presented. The presenter needs to be calm and collected to be seen as trustworthy. (“The speaker’s credibility depends on his or her trustworthiness, competence, and good will.” ~LJL Seminars)
  • I had speciesism right. Speciesism depends on the belief that animals are equal to humans, and since I don’t believe that, I don’t believe in speciesism. I am more complicated than I look on Twitter. I don’t fit in a box. Stop trying to put me in one.
  • “Who put you in charge of Mother Nature?” I never said that. I made some observations about the natural order of the world, saying, “We all make our choices, and we have our reasons and beliefs. Life and death is part of world.” I just happen to believe we’re at the top of the food chain. (Unless swimming in the ocean with sharks. Then, I’d reconsider.)
  • “Death in nature is [natural]. Nothing natural about animal ag.”: Tell that to me in January when I’m trying to save weak lambs that won’t be accepted by their mothers and they die anyway. “Nothing natural” would be every lamb living, none dying right after they are born. (Another square marked off: “plants have feelings,” or at least, natural lives. There is a natural life cycle to fruit, vegetable and row crop farming, as well. Should that be stopped?)
  • “That’s not ‘care’, that’s intentional harm to be selfish”:  We’re being selfish for wanting to eat good, nutrient-rich food? Regarding intentional harm, it goes back to whether or not one believes in speciesism. With milk, I have visited dairy farms while cows are being milked and not heard a single sound. Often, the only scuffles are between the cows to remind each other of their pecking order in which they are supposed to go into the milking stall.
  • “But we both now [sic] how it ends, don’t we?” Yes, I do. I am okay with it. Calloused? Maybe. But how did we arrive at this point of so much ridicule for a process that has gone on for thousands of years? At one point, everyone was familiar with how these things went. The fact that we can argue about it now demonstrates the abundance of food available in the U.S. and other developed countries.
  • “You’re saddened by your lambs dying yet you choose to eat them anyway? I just said you had a choice : /”: Yeah, sort of. I also have been saying that: “Aha! I see, thanks. That’s the beauty of free will and being able to choose how we live and eat : )” I choose to eat meat, others choose not to. That’s fine. Why am I verbally being bullied into making the choice of no meat?
  • “It’s not just about family farms Elise! It’s FACTORY farms and animal torture etc.”: This one really confused me. If animal ag should be completely abolished, why care about the family farms? They just do the same as the larger farms, sending the animals off. Farmers care about what they do and how they do it, and they also need to be economically stable. There’s a balance there. It is possible to do both. (And again with the name thing….)
  • “Again, 92yr old vegan (takes no supplements) ran half marathon. Proof you don’t need to kill to thrive.”: This goes back to what I said earlier in the conversation. People have different diets and needs. When using the word “you,” that is specifically talking to me. Because a 92-year-old ran a half marathon with vegetables and other non-animal sources as fuel, I can too. First off, I have flat feet. Second, I notice my energy suffers when I don’t eat green beans for a week. I also notice I feel run down when I don’t have a nice beef or lamb steak for a week. I’ve eaten almonds before to try to supplement, but they just don’t have the same amount of protein, and just don’t taste as good. My system requires a balanced diet, which includes meat and milk.
  • “No thanks – I won’t be going to a slaughter house anytime soon either.”: This statement completely shuts down the conversation. If there’s no willingness to visit or talk to what or who is being campaigned against, there won’t be any further use campaigning against it. Audiences listen most readily to a presenter who listens to them, too. This is most evident in politics, as well as in many other fields, such as education, where students fondly remember the teacher who took time to patiently listen.
  • “These statistics are only for US. In Europe it’s bloody awful. China as well.”: How is this a rebuttal to my statement that 93% of farms are family farms? Also, I’m in the U.S., so the statistics are going to be for the U.S. I’d get the stats for where the speaker is from, but I did not have that information. Also, what exactly is awful? I’d ask, but we’ve been at this for two hours, and I have been continually besieged and told I’m a killer and torturer, and my invitation to visit farms was totally put down (despite my thanking them for an invitation to join them and make my farm a sanctuary, which I already think is). So I’m about done. (An example of shutting down after being berated by a presenter.)
  • “Because veganism is about the planet you live on and its people too”: So is agriculture. Sustainable. Responsible. Caring for the land. We care about our families, too.

Today, I got another tweet in rebuttal to a Wall Street Journal article I posted. The tweet said that the Wall Street Journal needed to get its facts right and stick to what they know, giving the link to a Science Daily article.

One important point here is that anyone can find any article they want on the Internet to prove their point. The writer of the WSJ article told the audience she and her husband run a grass-fed beef operation. She will bring forth evidence from her experience and research she has conducted to show that cattle are good for the environment. If someone disagrees with that, they can conduct a quick Google search for “Are cattle bad for the environment?” and find 20 million hits. Examining sources, and perhaps visiting the cattle to see what they’re up to, is important. (Note: the very first hit on the Google search lists 10 animals that are “bad for the Earth when nature’s balance gets disrupted.” This list includes elephants, locusts, crown-of-thorn locusts, cattle, common carp, goats, cane toads, bark beetles, rats and humans. Who knows why cattle get such a bad rap? What about deer overpopulation?)

So, thinking through this, cattle should live instead of being brutally murdered by the farmers, so the claim that cattle harm the environment is made, “logically” leading to the fact that humans should stop eating beef. However, if the cows harm the environment, why should they live at all? If everyone becomes vegan, there would be no more cows. That would mean an upset ecosystem and native peoples like the Maasai with no livelihood. If the ecosystem becomes upset by missing small creatures such as bees and rats, then it’s definitely going to be upset when cattle aren’t around. Cattle aren’t present for nothing….

I’m about to mark another square on the Bingo chart: what about lions and wolves and such? I really don’t understand why there’s a difference. If everyone is equal, and nothing should be dying, why let the lions kill the gazelles? Wolves kill cattle? Coyotes kill sheep? Why are we not defending the livestock against the wolves if we are defending them against humans, who, according to the belief on which speciesism is founded, are equal to the wolves?

We need a systems approach. We can’t just pick on one aspect of a problem and say, “This needs to be eliminated, and that will fix everything.” It takes a holistic approach. I can’t just get rid of weeds and say that’ll solve my pasture problems and turn my livestock out on grass for the summer. I also need to practice rotational grazing so that the grass isn’t eaten to the ground. I need to watch for conditions that could lead to fatal diseases like toxic fescue. I may need to provide hay if a drought dries up the green plants. There are many factors to consider for success, not only in agriculture, but in business solutions, education, food distribution and more.

This includes communication. Good communication has many components, from the proper way to inform others of our opinions to listening and loving our neighbors as ourselves. It all needs to fit together in order for relationships and discussions to function properly. A systems approach is essential in many areas of our lives.

So let’s look at my card again. (Wait, I need to add one more question: “Is your cat or dog vegan?”)

There we go.

All done.
All done.

BINGO.

More articles on #farm365:
The Highs & Lows of Week One on #Farm365 by Andrew Campbell
Show Some Respect by Teresa Falk

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