John Phipps: Don’t Panic. Don’t Go Tharn, Either.

04:23PM Sep 11, 2019
Father & Son Walking
Terror may not be the best word to describe the mindset of many farmers right now, but it’s not far off.
( AgWeb )

In Richard Adams’ best-selling novel about a community of rabbits, Watership Down, he invents the term “tharn”. It is an instinctive freeze in moments of rabbit terror. Since many predators are attracted by a glimpse or sound of movement, this absolute lack of motion saves rabbit lives. At the time the book came out, we had small children, and adapted the term to describe overtired, over-stimulated youngsters who had lapsed into immobility: “Carry Aaron to bed, he’s gone tharn.”

Terror may not be the best word to describe the mindset of many farmers right now, but it’s not far off. While voices across agriculture will be cautioning against outright panic, the possibility of going tharn is the greater risk, however.

Farmers are overtired. Not necessarily physically, but that will likely occur during a problematic harvest after an historically grueling planting season.  Our weariness can also arise from making and re-making decisions.

Consider tax planning carefully put into action in January. The unexpected 2018 MFP you wisely postponed into 2019 is now compounded by fixed-date 2019 payments this fall. Prevent plant payments splash onto the income column. For the shrewd few, well-thought out marketing plans with significant fall sales made during that glorious, but too brief rally means the possibility of considerable imbalance between income and expenses. Regardless, repeatedly having plans reset to Square One is exhausting.

Farmers are seriously overstimulated as well. Every morning brings the real and present danger of a tweet that could blow more holes in our future or be reversed tomorrow. Who needs caffeine to become alert these days? 

In fact, going tharn can be disguised as waiting for the smoke to clear, or the fog of war to lift, or until we have more information. Only information is not arriving in coherent packages, but a firehose of contaminated facts and deceptions. The 24/7 nature of the news cycle and the need to be tweeting and posting to command attention means there will be no clarity or respite from confusion.

We make going tharn palatable by using terms like “burnout”. But burnout is a measurable psychological state, and not synonymous with stress. For those with considerable means, such tuning out may be a helpful survival tactic. For those whose production and financial positions require full alertness to capture fleeting opportunities, going tharn raises the risk of poor outcomes, however. As well, consider our greatest threat (to strain the metaphor) may be other rabbits who have resisted shutdown. 

Most of us have little choice – we have to stay functional or our load shifts to family, employees, lenders, and other business partners. Part of our effort then should be devoted to finding coping mechanisms. Actions like incrementalism – small but persistent steps toward a goal – will likely be more useful than looking for the brilliant maneuver that resolves looming problems rapidly.

There are other tools. Being able to calculate – even roughly – common risks and rank them against more familiar threats can lower our tharn trigger. Understanding our own biases and allowing for them even as we continue to embrace them allows us to remain consistent but still be effective. Setting aside even a few moments each day as a mental sanctuary can boost our tolerance and endurance.

Fighting the learned helplessness so much a part of our professional victimhood mentality is not easy.

Understanding the false promise of relief by going tharn should help us in that struggle.