I once read that if you want to remain ignorant about anything, just talk to or read things written by people who agree with you. Here at the AVMA, in my position in the Media Relations Department, I hear and read a lot from people with whom I disagree. And you know what? It makes me a better person. It makes me smarter. And it makes me do my job a whole lot better.
I recently attended the 2011 Food Summit, hosted by The Center for Food Integrity. It was full of people representing the livestock industry, all of whom proudly help feed millions of people here at home and abroad. One of the folks who spoke was Paul Shapiro, from the Humane Society of the United States. As he began his presentation on food-animal well-being, he joked that he probably didn’t have many friends in the crowd. But when he talked about why the HSUS believes that food animals deserve more protection than they currently get, he certainly had everyone’s attention. He also got people thinking about the common ground that can be reached between food producers and groups like his when it comes to animal care, housing and treatment.
One interesting observation was seeing audience members’ heads shake and eyebrows curl while he spoke, juxtaposed with the smiles and handshakes he received from these same people at a reception that followed his talk. It was a fascinating glimpse into human nature. And it showed – I’d like to think – how people can disagree but still respect one another, even when it comes to issues as controversial as animal welfare.
I left the food summit feeling informed and better educated. One statement I heard from a speaker who talked about risk communication really stuck with me. He said that people might have an open mind, but not an empty one, and that we all need to remember that when we’re trying to convey a message.
We all base our opinions on what we’ve experienced in life, what we’ve learned from teachers, acquaintances and colleagues, and what we value. But the important thing to remember is to keep our minds open – about everything. Yes, we should talk when we need to. But – most importantly – we also need to listen, especially to those whose opinions are different from our own. If we do, we’ll all be better off for it.