22 Sep When T-Ball Met Twitter
Let me see if I have this right… Scotland almost divorced the United Kingdom without even a basic understanding of what its new national currency might be; comedian John Oliver has usurped the Federal Communications Commission as our great Nation’s subject matter expert on Net Neutrality; and we want to ban GMO’s even as they are curing blindness in 3rd world countries. Oh, and the world is falling apart. See a pattern here?
Well, I do.
In the past, big decisions were made by convening teams of experts (remember that word – experts) and having them vigorously debate a serious problem and arrive at a conclusion. Sometimes this was a unanimous conclusion; sometimes a “minority opinion” was included. Either way, the experts guided those of us who had neither the time nor intellectual bandwidth in a particular topic to render much in the way of useful input.
Then along came T-Ball.
T-Ball taught us that everyone should have a turn. Not a bad thing in grade school, maybe not such a great thing in really important decision-making. Indeed, T-Ball has, I fear, led to a blurring of the lines between opinions (which everyone has) and expertise (which, by definition, only a handful of folks can have). When exasperated I’ve been known to refer to this as T-Ball Nation.
Then we added Twitter.
“Ban GMOs!” fits on Twitter. “Stop poisoning our food!” fits on Twitter. “GMO’s suck when used to limit small farmers and corrupt food but are really useful when trying to feed a fast growing world or to improve the health of millions of children worldwide who suffer from Vitamin A deficiencies!” won’t fit on Twitter. That’s also not very sexy so it probably wouldn’t get much play on Reddit. And newsflash, John Oliver’s never going to do a 13 minute rant explaining the virtues of vitamin A supplemented rice for impoverished children.
The old way wasn’t perfect. We’ve certainly been manipulated by experts enough to make us skittish. But, judging from the current state of the world, the new way isn’t working out very well either.
Out here in rural and small town America, we have long struggled to gain access to the “experts”. Perhaps for that reason, we understand more than most the priceless value of authentic expertise and the enormous penalty we pay without it. And we understand stewardship. Rural and small town Americans have been longstanding stewards of land and water, our unique lifestyles, families, and communities – it had to be that way; there wasn’t anyone else.
Let’s not lose that in this new century, even with all its great technology and opportunity. Let’s demand good answers to complicated questions; let’s allow for answers that are nuanced and might not fit neatly onto a 3 x 5 card; and let’s ask our policymakers to discuss beyond soundbites the positions they’re taking on various issues, while acknowledging that no one is an expert in everything. Most importantly, let’s acknowledge our own limitations and tackle tough questions with humility and openness.
T-Ball and Twitter are great, but tough challenges require so much more.