I always appreciate feedback on this column, whether it's good, bad or indifferent. Some people naturally bristle at criticism but I actually quite enjoy it; it's like reverse schadenfreude.
Equally the rare bit of applause these words can generate is indeed welcome but not sufficient to induce cranial inflation.
This past week has been akin to a traverse of that range of human emotions which starts at pity and ends at praise. My inbox has been inundated with dozens of emails regarding last week's effort, in which I reflected on the reaction of farmers to the Sunday programme which aired on TV One nearly two weeks ago. You know the one by now - dairy farmers Gavin Flint and Jasmine Purnell with their contrasting dairy farming methods. I wrote about that and... well... let's just say when it rains it pours (untimely pun, I know) and this week it has bucketed down. The amount of feedback has been almost unprecedented for one of my weekly rambles.
This is an issue that has piqued interest and raised ire within the farming community and, it seems, with those opposed to agrarian systems. The heavily populated middle ground is largely absent from the debate through a lack of concern or engagement, but for those concerned and/or engaged the past fortnight has been a chance vent - and vent they have.
It has been a case of the vilified versus the vindicated, with the anger of farmers who feel like victims of a hatchet job up against the braying mob, pitchforks at the ready, marching forward to the rhythm of "I told you so".
The interesting thing for me is the passion and anger with which both sides are approaching the issue. Of course, the down side of emotions running high is loss of perspective and rationality - logic is at a premium and arguments can branch lose focus in spectacular fashion.
I received an email from a reader last week containing no less than 853 words! That's longer than the column the reader was commenting on. Nevertheless, I was full of admiration for the effort, despite the fact it skewed markedly off topic, so I replied along the lines of, "thanks for the feedback" etc.
The reply to that reply came in at over 500 words and then an attempt to put a full stop on the whole thing resulted in another 770 words from the same reader! That's over 2000 words on a topic I never even wrote about!
But this is where clarity gives way to preconception. To be fair, the reader was very amiable and well intentioned. The problem is that by writing about angry farmers I must have given the impression I was on one particular side of the fence on this debate. That is inaccurate - I never once stated a personal opinion on the issue, other than to use it as an example to say the perception of farmers has diminished in the eyes of the general populace in the last few decades.
I stand by that but many took that as a cue to either go off on some weird and wonderful tangents like pollution or the detrimental effects of milk on humans, or to somehow conclude that I was a farming apologist (both sides made that mistake). Worse still is that some even mistake an opinion piece, such as the one you're reading, to be journalism! I've worked for many years as a journo and, trust me, this ain't that!
The good thing is, the Cameron Bennett story on Sunday has sparked some robust debate and helped ramp up the urgency for the conversation to take place. It's been one of those issues bubbling away for a while now but really needs to come to a head so we can all start heading in the same direction, whatever that may be.
But since this column is about reader and listener feedback, I thought it pertinent to sign off with the words of one of our more sage listeners. This is from Greig Neilson: "I'm a townie and I love listening to The Country every day. I reckon you fellas are barking up the wrong tree with your "boo hoo, the big bad media done us wrong" line. Who cares about good news stories? The cops do a good job, we don't need to see stories about that, as do doctors, firefighters, teachers and so on..." He goes on to say, "...in reality that 30 minutes of Country Calendar is positive PR that will never be achieved by teachers or nurses in NZ."
Now that I find hard to disagree with.