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Guiding Principles

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As controversial issues in food, agriculture and the environment are explored with others, Issues 360 Fellows are expected to adhere to a set of five principles that guide attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors. While many issues can be challenging or met with resistance, these guiding principles can instruct fellows how to interact among themselves and with others in ways that are positive, respectful, and constructive.  

Respect for democratic society. Our democratic system of government provides each of us the right to speak freely and engage in issues that affect us. We must remember that everyone has this freedom, even when we vehemently disagree with another’s opinion. It is within this broader societal context that we remember the gifts of our democracy ­­– the freedom to engage in issues that we care about and the freedom of speech.

Respect for others. Issues are controversial because we perceive issues and each other differently. This is a complex emotional and cognitive process. Each of us is influenced by many things, such as the community we come from, our family and friends, groups we belong to, our life experiences, as well as our personality, biases, prejudices, and fears, to name just a few. And, because we live in such a diverse society, these influential factors uniquely affect our mindsets, values, beliefs, and knowledge about issues associated with food, agriculture and the environment. While we do not have to agree with others, we should respect them. We show respect when we keep our emotions, attitudes, and actions in check; and we remain focused on the substantive issues, not the person. In this way, we are able to build more trusting relationships, communicate with civility, and collaborate with others in hopes of finding mutually satisfying outcomes to the issue. However, mutual agreement is not a prerequisite for respecting others and may at times mean that we respectfully choose to disagree.  

Respect for science-based knowledge. Scientific information informs sound decision making. Credible sources of data and information enable us to better understand the issues, create innovative alternatives, analyze alternatives in terms of their costs and benefits, and make more fully informed decisions. At the same time, many of the controversial issues in agriculture and natural resources cannot be resolved with simple technical solutions because they involve conflicting values.  Scientific information cannot be a substitute for the value-based choices that people make, nor can science identify the most appropriate set of values. Critical thinking skills enable us to discern credible, fact-based information from uninformed opinions.

Respect for critical thinking.  Critical thinking enables us to explore issues and ideas before accepting or formulating an opinion or conclusion. As we explore complex issues, we examine the evidence and critically reflect on our own assumptions, fears and biases to make fully informed decisions.  Critically understanding ourselves allows us to more objectively assess the various sides of a given issue and engage in problem-solving activities with others. 

Respect for ourselves.  Respecting ourselves means having a healthy confidence that enables us to engage with others around these tough issues in a way that is constructive and respectful. A healthy confidence is built over time as we open ourselves to learning, not only more about the issues and other perspectives, but more about ourselves. This requires us to examine our own pre-conceived assumptions, beliefs, and biases that we have about issues and about other individuals or groups. This requires taking some personal risks and continually striving to stretch ourselves in unfamiliar directions. Sometimes we will feel uneasy and disturbed, but we know that we have the strength to work through it. Taking these “inner journeys” will take us to new levels of understanding and being. Respect for ourselves also means that we take responsibility for our actions when they are harmful to others.