Between the Rows: Let's Keep It Civil

Published online: Jul 02, 2020 Between the Rows
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This article will appear in the August 2020 issue of Potato Grower.

Confession time: I love sweet potato fries. Absolutely love ’em. It may be blasphemous for someone in my position to deliver that hot take via this particular platform, but I can’t deny it any longer. When I imagine a thick layer of fry sauce slathered on one of those crispy, orangey sticks of goodness, my mouth starts to water.

Now, I wouldn’t divulge this sensitive—some might say controversial—personal information if I didn’t trust in the civil, understanding, rational nature of our readership. Truth be told, I love fries derived from good old russets every bit as much; it just depends on what strikes my fancy at a particular moment. I can’t imagine anyone I’ve met in the potato industry calling up my boss to demand that his editor be removed from his post because he occasionally has the nerve to order a side of the corrupt version of french fries. Because that would, of course, be a ludicrous premise.

A quick glance at the 24-hour news cycle or your Facebook feed may have you believing that there are only two ways to believe and live: their way and the idiotic/evil way. Sometimes it feels as if the United States of America—a nation founded on the premise of the intrinsic importance of the individual—has fractured itself into two existentially opposing and eternally irreconcilable factions, each more intent on proving the other wrong than on bringing about any tangible change for good. If you agree with someone on macroeconomic policy, you’re made to feel like a traitor if you happen to have a difference of opinion on welfare, rule of law, disease control, environmental protection, religion, GMOs, child-rearing, hunting, pet care, diet, tattoos, music or punctuation.

The United States Constitution was called by its creators a “bundle of compromises.” Not just one compromise; a whole bundle of ’em. Just picture it: government leaders working together, listening to one another’s concerns and questions, doing their best to address the needs of disparate groups while bearing in mind the entirety of what was quickly becoming a vast nation. And, because they acknowledged that neither they nor the magnificent document they created was perfect, they included in that very document a way for future generations to change it. To top it all off, the common people were happy to accept the final product, even if it didn’t give every person every single thing they wanted. Dissenting opinions weren’t shouted down; they were welcomed, even when they didn’t change anyone’s mind.

I remember being taught in grade school that America was a big melting pot, made up of all different kinds of people with all different kinds of heritages and desires, but all happy to be chasing the proverbial American dream together. And we’re not talking about two or three or a dozen ingredients; the American recipe today calls for more than 300 million ingredients stirred and simmered together into an imperfect yet bold and delicious casserole.

Nobody should be made to feel guilty or inferior because of the color of their skin, or the size of their hometown, or the god they do or don’t worship, or how rich or poor or magnanimous or scumbaggy their dad was. Education level, marital status, professional ambitions, social standards, political convictions—should I really care if yours don’t line up perfectly with mine? Maybe I should, but, to be perfectly honest, I have neither the time nor the inclination.

It’s okay for a registered Republican to fill in the bubble for a Democrat or even a third-party candidate (can you imagine!?!) in a spot or two on the ballot. And nowhere does it say that you have to agree with every single policy of a county commissioner or congressman or president for whom you voted. People with integrity can, and quite often do, approve of a group’s overarching message while questioning its practices.

In Michael Shaara’s eminently enlightening Civil War novel The Killer Angels, Union Lieutenant Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is depicted trying to convince a bunch of would-be mutineers to march with his regiment. After listening to the men’s grievances and assuring them that, though he’s authorized to, he won’t have them shot, Chamberlain lays down a sensational speech that includes this: “This is free ground. … No man has to bow, no man born to royalty. Here we judge you by what you do, not by who your father was. Here you can be something. … It’s the idea that we all have value, you and me.” And, despite the problems they have with the Army, the men join back in the fight.

It doesn’t matter who you are—a large-scale farmer or a hippie barista, whether you prefer your fries of the shoestring, steak, waffle-cut or even sweet potato variety—I think we all, deep down, just want to be judged for the content of our character. That’s the best anyone could hope or ask for.