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Erin Brown / Grand Vale Creative

It's easy to follow one authority but adults must question and listen

One of my most treasured interview memories was in 2014 when I met Grant G. Gullickson, then 94, who grew up on a ranch in Stark County near Taylor, N.D. He was an uncle of Fayette Heidecker, one of Agweek's long-time advertising representatives.

Gullickson enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served on the USS Corry, a ship credited with being the first to fire on Normandy Beach during D-Day on June 6, 1944. He was one of three brothers who all served in that war.

Gullickson was commissioned as an officer and promoted. He served on eight ships, achieving commander status in 1969 on the USS Forrestal, a "super carrier." He was chief engineer with 600 men under his supervision. Gullickson said the Navy just loved guys from ranch country, in part because of their problem-solving skills and work ethic, but in part because of their willingness to follow orders.

I've often pondered what Gullickson said.

Yes, most farm kids (and many in town) still come from a culture of obedience. Often, farm children see how their own parents relate to their grandparents, from whom they have acquired a career — a legacy, that often goes back generations. As adults, parents will often seek and get wisdom from the grandparent.

Farm parents start their children with small responsibilities. These start with pets and livestock chores. You do the chores because you're told: Close that gate, turn off that switch, put that tool back. Those orders carry particular weight when failure to do them might cost the farm some money or put someone at risk of injury.

Small communities often are led by authority figures with a strong sense of community protection. Classically, ideally, this is true in the churches, the government.

It's simpler when there's one authority.

Today, authority voices from the right tell us we should be afraid of certain refugees. We should grow our energy appetites because it's good for business. We should be afraid of becoming over-dependent on world trade. Some scientific authorities and President Donald Trump say global warming is a hoax. And if the president decides to tackle overriding concerns about Chinese trade on intellectual property, you go with it — especially if he tells you he loves you and will back you.

You want to believe it when they say grain prices can't stay low for long. Maybe there'll be a weather-related disaster in the Corn Belt. You believe certain suspect farm chemicals are safe because scientists in the Environmental Protection Agency approved it.

Meanwhile, other authority voices tell us we should not be afraid of cultural diversity, or religious differences. We should not be afraid of immigrants or refugees because we need them. Grain prices will stay low for another nine years. The courts and other scientists say the chemicals cause cancer, regardless of EPA approvals.

Me? It's my job to ask questions, if only to figure out who to believe. But if I'm going to write about it, I need to shut up, if only to hear the answers.