Keep guiding principles in mind

I hate politics. Even more, I loathe all that it has recently become.

If one needs more proof, simply take a look at all of the misleading and controversial television coverage. Or better yet, attend a local gathering at the coffee shop and listen to some of the more colorful metaphors used to describe our candidates for the nation’s highest office.

One might think my statements are odd, considering I’ve invested nearly 15 years representing farmers in state and national lobbying organizations, working within the political system on their behalf.

One might say participation in such an endeavor is a necessary evil, though the analogy makes me shudder and want to run the other way. A “necessary evil” is not my choice of words, given the assumption of questionable morality that we engage in immoral practices.

On the contrary, credibility, honesty and transparency are first and foremost the guiding standards of an agricultural commodity lobbying organization. Absent that, doors are closed and access to legislators and staff is doubtful.

One benefit of my work as an advocate is to participate in training activities that are helpful in understanding people and what it is that drives their behavior.

At a recent seminar in St. Louis, Mo., we received research information provided by the Center for Food Integrity (foodintegrity.org).

Much of the discussion centered on the moral hierarchy and the six stages for understanding how people think, react and respond according to their beliefs.

• People are principle-driven. There is an innate sense of responsibility regarding their behavior and practices. To understand what drives them, make connections on similarities and common interests. But before you enter the discussion, clarify your values. Know what is important to you and why it is important to you.

• Listen. Do not judge. Actively listen. Look for shared value.

• Identify what is important to this person and why. Verify what you hear by paraphrasing, so you can correct any misperceptions and get it right.

• Listen for common values. Everyone has similar values. Look for them and identify them and communicate it to that person.

• Control your emotions. It’s easier said than done, right? Been there and lost it. Deeply regretted it later.

• Lastly, define the conversation outcome: Did we learn something about the person? Did we share common values? Did I listen appropriately and did I learn anything worthwhile in the conversation? Was I able to correctly understand what the person was communicating? Did I control my emotions and work through the conversation in a manner that provided the best opportunity for two-way communication?

• Finally, do I move forward with more interaction with this individual or is walking away the best option at this point?

Included as part of the discussion were seven elements of trust-building transparency, and I believe they are appropriate for consideration within any dialogue we may have in the political arena.

One point of clarification is that the word “stakeholder” is inclusive of all participants, whether they are corporate or individuals. They are:

1) Motivations – Act in a manner that is ethical and consistent with stakeholder interests.

2) Disclosure – Share publicly all information, both positive and negative.

3) Stakeholder participation – Engage those interested in your activities or impact.

4) Relevance – Share information stakeholders deem relevant.

5) Clarity – Share information that is easily understood and easily obtained.

6) Credibility – Share positive and negative information that supports informed stakeholder decision making and have a history of operating with integrity

7) Accuracy – Share information that is truthful, objective, reliable and complete.

Perhaps the most difficult of the seven is the last one, though all are incredibly necessary. How often do we hear the “truth,” but it is one of a dozen versions that leaves out important information? If I were to base my choices for a presidential candidate on what I hear in a coffee shop or a television ad, it would be an ill- informed decision, subject to which misleading television ad or “expert” hits my buttons at the time.

People, in general, display a preference of one or the other, not because they have invested time in the vetting process to understand the politics or morality of a political candidate or political party. They are either Republican, Democrat, Independent or none of the above. They remain loyal, to a fault. Not because it is the right thing to support at the time, but that’s part of the historical “tradition.”

Wouldn’t it be nice, for once, that political candidates would take the stage and be honest and truthful regarding themselves? Not to mention, would it be nice if they were honest about their opponent and rather focus on their own plans to move forward? Would it also be nice to let the voter decide who would do the better job, based on the whole, unvarnished truth? Yes!

Paul Penner, former president of the National Association of Wheat Growers, farms in the Hillsboro area. He has been active statewide and nationally regarding agriculture policy.