'Isms' that cause schisms on family farms

Take time to consider what is real and what is perceived and how to handle the real issues in farm succession planning.

Take time to consider what is real and what is perceived and how to handle the real issues in farm succession planning. (Erin Ehnle Brown / Grand Vale Creative LLC)

Let’s start with some definitions for a couple of odd words. An “ism” is a manner or action, a prejudice based on the basis of a specific attribute. A schism is a split or division between strongly opposed groups caused by a difference of opinions or belief.

There have always been and will always be “isms” which may include sexism, racism, classism or ageism. We are in a time right now where many people are suggesting that they are being discriminated against. Is that true or is something else part of the story?

Many people can go back to their childhood and remember which side of town someone was from, the "poor" side or "rich" side and classism was an issue. Then skin color always seems to come up as racism is discussed. Then there is conversation about the young and the old and ageism is a problem. Then something comes up about men and women and sexism is argued about.

There’s always some sort of an “ism.” That “ism” then leads to a schism when the two parties become vocal with each other because of differences of opinion or belief, which causes a split or division. One of the first challenges with “isms” and “schisms” is trying to figure out if it is a real problem, a perceived problem or a fake problem. Here is a simple test of favoritism. Go to a sporting event with your child playing. If your team wins, the refs were pretty good but the other team’s fans were a bunch of whiners. If your team loses, the refs were terrible all night. Sometime try this — just go sit in the stands and watch a game that you don’t care who wins. You may leave thinking the officials were OK, but the fans were crazy!

Well there are books written about many of these “isms” so I wanted to ask, “Are there any ‘isms’ that cause schisms on your farm?” Well, of course there are. Let’s focus on one of them. Sometimes there’s favoritism, or at least perceived favoritism. Sometimes it is perceived that the farming heir must be the favorite because they received more. So the “ism” is assumed that there is a prejudice against the non-farming heirs and in some situations, that causes a schism because the family members become a strongly opposed group of people.


So is that perceived favoritism worthy of a family schism? Sometimes it may be. After I have tried to understand the whole story, sometimes I think, "Wow, that’s just not right. Something should be fixed." Interestingly, when I bring up those real obvious concerns some people know right away and say, “I know, we need to fix that,” while other people vehemently defend something that is wrong. Planning can become very personal, and I don’t mean that in a good way.

Other times I observe a family member having a "schism" but then I observe underlying factors that aren’t even real. The schisms are fabricated, and now things are really tense and all kinds of bad history is brought up that is not even real. Rationale and logic are a thing of the past.

The best you can do is to look at your farm, family and distribution plan and determine if there are any “isms” that may cause schisms. Then ask yourself, “Are these ‘isms’ real or fabricated?” If they are real, then you need to determine how to correct them, but maybe your plan is OK and somebody just needs a dose of some realism.

Myron Friesen is the co-owner of Farm Financial Strategies Inc. in Osage, Iowa. He can be contacted at 866-524-3636 or

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