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Katie Pinke is interviewed by Cherylyn Harley LeBon at the Dole Institute of Politics in Lawrence, Kan. (Katie Pinke/Agweek Publisher)

Don't be afraid to get outside your echo chamber

How does a woman from rural North Dakota find herself at the Dole Institute of Politics in Lawrence, Kan., for a discussion group series? As I walked into the standout facility, a tinge of self-doubt entered my mind. Thankfully, a wave of confidence followed and I was eager to share a rural voice in the conversation.

This past summer, I was asked to participate in a fall series entitled "The Elusive Quest for the Lacrosse Mom: How Do Politicians, Corporations, Organizations and the Community Engage Women?" The series is led by Dole fellow Cherylyn Harley LeBon. I met her when we sat at the same table several years ago at Blogher, the largest women's blogging conference in the world.

Cherylyn hails from upstate New York and lives in the Washington D.C., area. Our lives couldn't be more different on paper; however, at the core, our values are parallel. I hadn't seen Cherylyn since the Blogher event, but we've remained connected thanks to social media. When she asked me to participate in the series and I saw the credentials of the other speakers I thought, "Why me? How do I fit in?"

My voice needs to be heard: Agriculture. Rural. Small business owner. Mom. Volunteer. Woman of faith. It's who I am.

Cherylyn interviewed me about my role at Agweek and in the agriculture news business; my role on the Wishek City Council and why I ran for an elected office in my small town; how I juggle work and family life; and my past as a single mom while earning a college degree.

The experience and dialogue reminded me to not doubt my role or voice. Everyone has a story. Your story needs to be heard, too.

As much as our voices need to be heard, we also need to listen. In order to listen, we need to leave our usual bubble of people — our echo chamber. Oftentimes, we find ourselves interacting with people both online and offline who have similar interests and values.

This is America, and I don't want all of us to think or sound alike. It's our freedom to celebrate. I want to learn from those who are like me and different than me. Our experiences, education, whereabouts, peers, religions and families influence who we are.

When I set out for Kansas, I assumed the experience wouldn't be much different than my life in North Dakota and my social and professional circle. For the most part that wasn't the case. For example, at dinner, I sat next to a highly educated woman with decades of teaching and leadership experience. Before meeting me, she had never met anyone who worked in the agriculture industry. We discussed issues in agriculture, news media, rural life and how I work remotely.

After dinner, I sat and listened to the Dole Institute's and the University of Kansas School of Law's "Religious Rights or Unlawful Discrimination?" program, hosted in celebration of Constitution Day. The program brought together bipartisan politics to give an in-depth look at a tough issues our country and Supreme Court are facing. Before the program started, the audience read the Preamble of the United States Constitution, adopted on Sept. 17, 1787.

My trip to Kansas was a good reminder I can remain rooted in who I am, share my passions and voice and listen to others. I left my bubble and returned home a stronger person. I now have a deep desire to bring more bipartisan, issues-based programming to my home area to engage similar and diverse voices.

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