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Growing Resilience

CHERYL TEVIS Updated: 12/18/2013 @ 1:14pm Cheryl has been an editor at Successful Farming since 1979.

Season’s greetings! Did you notice the holiday decorations on display before Halloween? (Never mind Thanksgiving!) Soon the Christmas cards will arrive.

In 1974, a man named Phillip Kunz sent 600 Christmas greetings, including a short handwritten note or a family photo. He received responses from more than 200. This outcome might seem disappointing, until you realize he didn’t know any of these people; he randomly selected names from the phone book. Even more astonishing, he continued to receive cards from some of these total strangers for 15 years.

It was all part of an experiment for Kunz, a Brigham Young University sociologist, who wanted to study a social behavior known as the rule of reciprocation (we feel a sense of obligation to give back to others who have given to us).

Don’t you wonder if the same experiment would turn out differently today? If it’s true that people send fewer cards, it’s less likely they’d reciprocate so readily. Yet, the holiday season is so hectic that we often go through the motions on automatic pilot.

Does it seem the daily headlines distract you from the serenity of the season, and it gets harder to filter out the inconsequential? Do you need a boost to catapult you into a celebratory spirit?

The weather in 2013 left a highly visible mark on many farm communities. September’s deadly floodwaters in Colorado destroyed the corn harvest, along with silage and feed for cattle, as well as irrigation systems. For some wheat growers, it also eased the drought.

On October 4, families in northeastern Nebraska and northwest Iowa were left picking up the pieces of their lives after a dozen tornadoes ripped through the region. A day earlier, South Dakota producers were socked by a cattle-killing October blizzard.

Not to be forgotten, many farmers suffered a second consecutive year of drought. In agriculture, we think we’re accustomed to weather disasters. However, experts warn that climate shifts will spawn recurring weather extremes. No doubt future generations of farmers will have to cultivate new varieties of inner resilience: the ability to recover readily and adaptafterillness, depression, or adversity.

But personal tragedies supercede the losses of farm property and assets. Almost every week there are senseless shootings. In 2013, the brutality of the world muscled its way into my rural turf.

A 15-year-old girl walking home from school was kidnapped and killed at a site only a few miles from my farm. To the south 10 miles, domestic violence claimed the life of a young woman, leaving two children without a mom and their father in prison.

I think of the young man killed in a snowmobile overturn, and the life-threatening illnesses and diseases afflicting friends and family. I think of the fragility of life, the harsh realities of Mother Nature, the inability to protect loved ones.

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