J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 1-24-11 | TheFencePost.com

J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 1-24-11

J.C. Mattingly
Moffat, Colo.

An old rancher friend of mine – by old, I mean he’s in his late 80s – said to me the other day, “When it comes to news, I like old news. A weekly paper is about all a person really needs.”

I thought about what he’d said for a long time, and then when he asked me to drive him down to the National Western, I asked him to expand a bit on the statement.

“Well,” he said, “it used to be if a person read a weekly paper, they knew what they needed to know, when they needed to know it. Now, seems like people want everything in a hurry. Everything in flashes and sound bites and the like.”

Around that time, I felt the urge to reach for my cell phone to check e-mails and the market – while driving, of course.

Then I stopped, thought, and looked at my old friend. His ranch is small and well-kept. He runs 40 to 50 cows, and a about as many goats. He takes care of small details on the place, seldom reaching out beyond what he can do and do well. I’ve heard him say many times that with all that’s going on in the world, if a man can take a small piece of the earth and make a little better, that is one of the best ways to spend the gift of a life.

Understanding what the older folks in our communities think, and have been through, tends to drain the hurry out of me. It’s true that we live in an information/technological age which has tremendous advantages. Light at the flip of a switch, clean water at the twist of a faucet, and data available to us by the click instead of the page are all wonderful and useful advances.

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But the downside to the speed and volume of information available today is that there clearly is a disconnect between our awareness and our involvement. The media/communications complex make us aware of many things, events, and people over which we have little or no control or contact. We feel compelled to have opinions on issues we never actually do anything about.

I mentioned this to my old friend. He nodded, then said, “Opinion overload, you might call it, and it ain’t good. As the old song goes, we need ‘a little less talk and a lot more action.’ The way I see it, when folks know more about the world than they can do about it, they start walkin’ the fences, more concerned about what they’re missin’ than what they’re doin’.”

Someone came up fast behind us and honked impatiently as we approached the exit ramp to the Coliseum.

“Like that there,” my friend added. “That feller’s a lot more worried about where he thinks he’s supposed to be than where he is.”

By saying he prefers old news, my old rancher friend is possibly saying he likes to limit his awareness to those things he’s actually involved with, or has a chance to influence, thus avoiding the distractions and dissipations of opinion overload. His approach doesn’t suggest a person should bury their head in the sand or shrug off civic responsibility. It simply means understanding our limits and staying focused, each day, so that at the end of the day, you can look back and know things are a little better.