“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Many of us have heard this piece of etiquette growing up, if not from our mothers, we knew it from Thumper in the Walt Disney movie “Bambi.”

Like much of the advice your mother gave you, while this gem is correct, it is hard to do in practice.

But oh, how I wish we could make this pearl a high priority in our lives.

Last week, I attended a meeting of the Polk County board of supervisors. The board was set to act on a moratorium on concentrated animal feeding operations, more commonly known by the acronym CAFO. The issue of large-scale animal operations got on the radar earlier this year when a permit was filed with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for a 26,000-animal hog farm in Burnett County.

Burnett and now Polk County have passed moratoriums on CAFOs so the counties can study the impacts of the operations and consider if more restrictive zoning laws need to be passed.

In public meetings, people who oppose these large operations came to give their opinions as did local farmers who were concerned about increased regulations. While it may seem that the two sides are miles apart, they both want clean water and to preserve the beauty of where we live.

It is, however, difficult to see common ground anymore.

At the meeting I attended it seemed like the self-centered “I’m right, you’re an idiot” mentality got the better of many people.

I get it that people are passionate about their beliefs and need to speak up to preserve their livelihoods. We can all get primal when threatened.

But to me as the impartial third-party observer, the people who carried the most weight were the ones who saw where the other side is coming from. It is difficult to help someone who insults you as a human being simply because you have a different point of view.

I used to think that people got this way only over large topics like religion, abortion and football. (It’s a joke, work with me people). Regular readers of this column know that I often opine about the caustic effects of the internet and social media on our interactions in real life. I firmly believe that too much screen time and too little face to face time have damaged our empathy as a society.

I hope as the calendar turns to 2020 and we are once again forced to undergo a national political campaign we can find a way to look for common ground with our neighbors. It shouldn’t take a tragedy or an emergency for us to be able to relate to one another.

My late father Arved (aka The Chief) always used to say “no one ever learned anything when they were talking.” I usually was trying to get my way when he said this to me. The fact is he was right. If we want to be heard, we need to listen.

I’m sure a reasonable accommodation can be reached on nearly any issue if we simply begin and end with an open mind and a closed mouth.

Like the advice from Thumper’s mom, it will be hard to do this, but we can, really.

As always, I welcome your comments. You can reach me by email at, telephone 715-268-8101 or write me at P.O. Box 424, Amery, WI, 54001.

Thanks for reading I’ll keep in touch. Feel free to do the same.