Stray Kernels – Embracing the Gap

Posted: November 16, 2018

Soon after Breanna Holbert, the 2017-2018 National FFA President, gave her retiring address at the National FFA Convention in October, the video link was posted online. And then it was shared, widely. Upon seeing the link over and over again in my social media feed, I thought, “Wow. This must be good. I should take the time to watch it.”


At almost 23 minutes in length, it’s not a quick watch. But it’s worth it. Holbert’s speech was profound and inspiring. It made me think.

The overarching theme of her address was “embracing the gap.” By “gap,” she was referring to the things that make us different.

Oh, golly. Maybe you’ve noticed that the things which make us different are really prominent these days. Differences in where we live, how we look, what we choose to eat, how we practice our faith, what we drive, how we dress, what news program we watch or listen to, what we believe, how we wear our hair… the list goes on and on. These differences—these gaps—have always existed, but now they are amplified.

The amplification seems to me to revolve partially around an epidemic of either/or thinking. Either you’re utterly right, or you’re completely wrong—there is no in between. Differences are presented as opposing forces.

I see this constantly in the discourse about food and farming. According to some of the louder voices, either you care about the environment, or you care about profit. Either you’re a vegetarian, or you eat meat and don’t care about animals. Either you are a “factory farm” or a “sustainable farm.” It’s as if we can’t possibly care about more than one thing simultaneously—like the environment AND staying profitable, meat as a tasty and nutritious food source AND animal welfare, or production efficiency AND sustainability.

Tribalism comes into play here, too. “Find your tribe,” folks say. What they mean is: find the people you can relate to, who believe in the same things you believe in. Stick together and work to make your voices heard. It is, indeed, comforting to find and associate with like-minded people. The problem arises when our sense of safety in the group leads us to think our ways are the only right ways, our beliefs are the only ones that are true and virtuous. Those other people? Those outsiders? They’re wrong. In fact, they’re not just wrong, they might be evil.

So in our daily associations we are constantly watchful for clues from the people around us. Are they like us? Or are they different? Are they one of “those people?” If someone expresses concern about a food production practice, then obviously they are a clueless consumer who’s never been on a farm. If someone mentions support for fair treatment of migrant farm workers, they must not be in support of farmers. We are quick to sort people into boxes, and slow to listen—if we bother to pay attention at all. As soon as we hear a clue; as soon as we think we know where someone is coming from, we stop listening. Either they’re one of us, or they must be against us. If they are against us, we must work to make sure their voice isn’t heard.

And so the gap widens. We say things like, “I can’t understand why they would believe that,” or “How can they possibly think that is true?” But did we ask them? And if we did, did we truly listen to the answer? Did we try to understand? Did we embrace the gap?

You can watch Breanna Holbert’s speech at  I highly recommend it.