Marilyn Hershey

There is something about working together on a farm that helps families get along, work through differences, and respect each other at the end of the day, even when life goes a little sideways.

As Duane and I raised our four kids, we tried to instill certain and important ground rules that they learned in both Sunday School and in children’s stories. The Golden Rule is always a good standard to carry: Treat others as you would like to be treated.

The other rule we repeated over and over to our fiercely independent children was from Thumper, the rabbit in the animated movie, “Bambi”: “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”

Even though I don’t remember watching that movie when I was growing up, I know this is also something my parents tried to instill in my brother and me. Dwight is three years older, and as typical siblings, we did not always get along. We still had to respect each other, though, especially as we completed our farm chores.

There was a time, however, that I remember I did not hold to the Thumper rule. My parents had a rare evening away, and they left the farm in our hands. I remember the responsibility was greatly weighing on our shoulders. The evening started out exciting, and it was fun to be in charge of the farm.

Somehow, as we moved the milkers down the row of cows, it got messy, and flaming words flew back and forth between us. Of course, neither one of us could let the insults alone. Rather, both of us came back with bigger, meaner words than the last.

I remember stewing on those angry words as I was feeding the heifers silage. I distinctly remember heaving the bag of silage up on the bunker, and spreading it out for the heifers. Looking out over the back field lane, I was thinking, “This is my chance to escape.” I was hurt, mad, and ready to run.

Run is exactly what I did. I ran out the back field lane and stayed there until I got hungry enough to come back home, which was not a tremendous amount of time. An apology was in order from both parties, and the next time we worked together, it was on much smoother terms.

I know our children have their own stories to share. There were times when their sibling rivalry was the dominant force for the day, and words flew back and forth more like daggers rather than compliments and positive reinforcement.

Duane and I occasionally got involved; other times we let things play out. Sometimes all we had to start to say was, “If you can’t say somethin’ nice . . .” Someone within ear shot would finish it, “. . . don’t say nothin’ at all.”

I understand there needs to be balance in life, which is why Duane and I let some of the rivalry play out. Kids need to learn responsibility for what is said to each other and take ownership of how words impact others.

I’m not talking about total agreement. That would be a boring environment to be a part of. But I fear that our messages today are not being delivered to each other in the best, healthiest manner.

In my eyes, social media does not help in that process. There is something to be said about looking a person in the eyes that makes my words more real and my disagreement more respectful. It is easy to type harshness when all that is in front of our eyes are keyboards and screens.

That said, there is a huge pile of hurt and pain in our industry right now. I am living in the middle of all these emotions, too, and it is tough to wade through as we work through our frustration. All of us are dealing with intense feelings every day. Stuffing our emotions in the closet and pretending they are not there does not help anyone either.

However — and this is a big however that I speak to myself — I do have control over my words. I am completely responsible for the language that I give to others. I also control my reaction to the words given to me. If I react the same way I did decades ago with my brother, I would run for the back field lane, taking me to a dead end.

I learned long ago that running away is definitely not my glass of milk. So, I lean more on my faith, I find things in my day that I am grateful for, and I try to let negative words roll past.

I recently read this saying at the Dairy Management Inc. office in Chicago. It stopped me in my boots because it spoke directly to me.

“You will continue to suffer if you have an emotional reaction to everything that is said to you. True power is sitting back and observing things with logic. True power is restraint. If words control you, that means everyone else can control you. Breathe and allow things to pass.”

Strong, impactful, and truthful words. I am sure that Dwight agrees these words would have been helpful to know on the short-lived night we took over the farm.

The author and her husband, Duane, own and operate a 550-cow dairy in Cochranville, Pa.