Low conflict entrepreneur

sunset over a prairie

A few years ago we went through a string of unfortunate events. The washing machine began leaking all over the laundry room floor and had to be replaced. The water pump in one of the pasture wells stopped pumping. A beautiful, healthy ram somehow tangled himself in a woven wire fence and died struggling to get out. The roof started leaking along a joint between the original homestead and the addition that was added in the 1970s. One of our kids even experienced a minor health scare. It turned out to be nothing serious, but the good news came with a stack of hospital bills. 

There was nothing we could do except put our heads down, keep working, and hope things evened out sooner than later. While that season represented an extreme, during the next few years it seemed like there was not much space between minor disasters (and the resulting bills.) 

“I guess this is adulthood.” I told my husband. “Just one unexpected expense after another until you die.” 

“Seems like it,” my husband replied, reaching for the checkbook to pay another bill. 

But January passed without incident, and now we are nearly two months into the new year, with nothing exceptional to report. All the animals are healthy, all the appliances in working order, and, with the time we haven’t had to spend dealing with impending crises, we’ve actually been fixing and cleaning outbuildings that were necessarily neglected during the crush of the last few years. The weather has been beautiful: calm and unseasonably warm. Even the children are getting along beautifully, playing for uninterrupted hours at games of their own devising. (Of course, I am knocking on wood as I write this; it’s always a gamble to tempt fate by saying this sort of thing out loud).

An unexpected side effect of all this peace and easy living, however, is the dearth of topics that are column-worthy. For whatever reason, calamity lends itself to tale-telling, while contentment is much more difficult to capture in interesting and noteworthy ways. As I’ve discovered during many rocky times in my life, writing into a problem is one of the best ways to get out from underneath it. Also, tragedy just makes better material. Throughout our wayward twenties, a good friend and I used to comfort each other through bad boyfriends and career setbacks by saying, “It’s all fodder for the novel!” To say it another way, it’s hard to achieve a dramatic climax without some drama. 

This week, listening to a favorite podcast, On Being with Krista Tippett, I learned about the term “conflict entrepreneur.” If you, like me, aren’t familiar with this phrase, it means exactly what it sounds like — someone who profits off creating or promoting high conflict and drama. It turns out that getting people riled up is big business, and one doesn’t need to look further than most major media outlets to see examples of how it’s done. 

Well, I’ve decided for this week’s column to give myself a new job description, “low-conflict entrepreneur.” The gentler pace of life on a ranch is one of the things I first fell in love with, and that pace daily feeds my heart and soul. Besides, I am well aware this little respite is only that: a little respite. 

No doubt before these words even go to press we will walk out to find a tree fallen on the car. Or, the tree will fall across a fence, releasing my flock of sheep to fend for themselves in the wilderness, thus requiring us to spend a day rounding them all back up. Or, most likely of all, one of the children will decide cooperation is overrated and feel the need once again to test the boundaries of their parents’ calm patience. 

Right now, however, in this quiet hour of sunlight and soft voices, that is not the case. Right now, peace prevails in our wee kingdom, and like the warmth offered by an unexpected midwinter thaw, we will revel in the pleasure this respite offers — even if it does temporarily render writing a weekly column a bit of a challenge.


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Eliza Blue is a shepherd, folk musician and writer residing in western South Dakota. In addition to writing her weekly column, Little Pasture on the Prairie, she writes and produces audio postcards from her ranch and just released her first book, Accidental Rancher. She also has a weekly show, Live from the Home Farm, that broadcasts on social media every Saturday night from her ranch.



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