Jody Carrington knew what she wanted to do with her life after one of her high school teachers made a significant impression on her.
The teacher spoke to the students about a classmate who had recently died. Carrington didn’t recall what the teacher wore, but she remembered how she made her feel.
“I wanted to make people feel the way that teacher made us feel,” said Carrington, who recently spoke at the Farm Credit Canada Women in Ag Summit in Edmonton.
“I knew if big people were in charge, the little people were going to be OK,” she said.
Carrington grew up on a farm in Alberta and set out to become a child psychologist, later marrying a cattle producer. She wrote a book titled Kids These Days: A Game Plan for (Re)Connecting with those we Teach, Lead & Love.
She said she learned a lot along the way, but one of the most important lessons was about the importance of connection.
Her presentation at the summit circled around building relationships with others to improve the family farm and the community.
“It all comes down to relationships, connection and a story,” she said. “We are all just here walking each other home. It’s this small statement that dictates the way I operate.”
The problem, however, is people are becoming increasingly disconnected, Carrington said. Technology is good for solving big overarching problems, like better health care, but many of us are using devices, like smartphones, to avoid one another.
More disconnection, which leads to increased loneliness and more mental health challenges, negatively affects everyone.
Carrington referenced suicide rates in Alberta, with men aged 29 to 42 having the highest rate in the province. As well, kids in need of mental health care are at high risk of harming themselves, she added.
“We are in a time of crisis,” she said. “I get really passionate about these things because I believe we are facing a challenging world.”
She said connecting, whether it’s with your child or spouse, can go a long way in helping navigate these challenges.
She said it’s important to show people how to regulate their emotions rather than tell them.
For instance, telling your spouse to calm down likely won’t make them calmer. Instead, being empathetic, understanding what they went through and getting them to open up is the best way to approach connection, she said.
“These three words will change your life: tell me more,” Carrington said. “All anyone wants to know, in any problem, is that they are seen and that they are heard. They don’t need a solution.”
She said even with the distractive devices around today, people are able to connect. It’s about making time and showing up.
Carrington pointed to the mourning process as an example that shows people, especially children, how to connect.
When someone dies, everyone feels the gut punch of grief, she said. Mourning, however, is the healing process. It requires people to come together and share stories. It’s often filled with tears and laughter.
“There is something sacred in that process,” she said. “We thought we were just doing it, but we were showing children how we walk them home.”
The same can be said for handshake deals in business, she added.
“You will have a more solid organization if you can seal it with a handshake and show your babies how to do that,” she said.
With face-to-face interactions, she said people tend to be calmer. Conflict will always happen, but Carrington said getting through it together and in person will only make the relationship stronger.
She said everyone, no matter their situation, can get through challenging times.
She offered tips on how to reconnect with people.
First, care about what the other person does. She said even though she has no passion for cattle, she gets excited, for instance, when her husband is jazzed that he judged the winning supreme champion bull at Edmonton’s Farmfair.
Eye contact and sitting down together to have tough conversations is important, she added.
As well, sitting down with food during those hard conversations is crucial. People tend to be in a better mood when they are eating.
Lastly, tough times must be traversed together. There is only so much one person can bear alone.
Carrington said women are the future in addressing these challenges. She said they tend to be better at connecting people, adding that this isn’t a men versus women thing.
“We are in a time where we are in desperate need of connection and that is your super power,” she said.
“Both me and my husband bring phenomenal things to the table. He has the logical and practical brain, where I have emotion and the capacity to connect. It’s something you can’t put a price tag on.”