Lessons from Students: Lower Your Waterline


Foreword: This story starts out in an art class, but ends in a valuable life lesson, that can be applied to agriculture or any other aspect of life. It struck me, and I definitely felt it worthy of forwarding on and sharing. Thank you to Taylor and Ryan for reminding me of this valuable lesson, in a very non-preachy and unassuming way.

My program has a definite graphic design undertone. I may be an awful graphic designer, but I am an alright artist, meaning that the art-based core classes that I need to take for Interactive Media Studies are usually enjoyable. This term, I’m especially enjoying my 3-D design class. Having worked almost exclusively with 2-D medias like paint and pencils, learning to use a “real” space has been interesting. We take a lot of the fundamentals of art and apply them to tangible, multi-dimensional mediums. However, art was not the only subject we covered some fundamentals of today.

It began with a structural project. We were assigned partners and given instructions to build a geodesic dome; essentially, our project called for us to make a miniature EPCOT Center. (Pictures will follow shortly.) Each pair was to figure out an interesting way to fill their dome. Each group found some unique way to use their dome to send a message or represent a theme. Ours represented about nine different things, because we kept changing our minds throughout the design and building process.

A geodesic dome. This was ours, minus some of the finishing touches. We used multicolored strings suspended across the inside to represent obstacles. (The magnitude of string used and the complexity is hard to see in picture.)

I walked into the gallery today to talk finishing touches with my partner, and saw another dome decorated with clear and blue plastic wrap, with a sign hanging in it that said, “Lower Your Waterline”. They were still working, so I wasn’t entirely sure what it meant. I asked one of the group members, Ryan, what they meant by “lower your water level.” In a nutshell, this is what he explained:

90% of an iceberg actually floats under the water. You only see that 10% at the peak. People are very similar, in that 90% of their “self” is made up of things we can’t see on the surface. When you “lower your waterline” you are seeing people for what they are beyond the obvious. You are embracing people for what is under that first impression, floating below the surface of the water.

Taylor, hard at work applying finishing touches to their dome.

I sat in silence for a moment, and at first the only response I had was, “That is a really cool idea!” They continued working, adding aspects meant to represent a person both above and below the waterline. When the class critiqued the project, Ryan and Taylor explained their message. Their “iceberg dome” was meant to encourage people to see beyond the tip of the iceberg and see a person for who they truly are. Our professor asked if anyone had any feedback. I made a point to say that this dome had a very real, necessary message that ought to be shared, and that I appreciated it even more because of that.

There are so many ways that this can apply to my life. Living, working, and studying on a college campus puts me in so many situations with people who have experienced so many things. This will only continue to spread outwards in my life as I branch out into the professional world, moving to new cities and new states and experiencing new things. Then, it struck me: this is something we need to consider when we advocate for a cause, as well.

The completed iceberg dome. I can’t even begin to explain all the fantastic detail they put into this project. It really was well-made and well-executed. Please, lower your waterline.

There are so many things we don’t know about people, operations, or groups. There are aspects that aren’t immediately apparent on the surface. When you look at a farmer and see their crops, their animals, their methods, their ideologies, and their business model…you don’t know every detail that directed the choices leading to their current position. Unless you experience the same things, how can you honestly judge the quality of an operation based on big or small, organic or conventional…this goes for advocating with non-farmers as well.

Do you know what caused that person to feel a certain way about eating beef? Why they choose (or have to) live a gluten-free lifestyle? What happened along their path to define their stance for or against horse slaughter? It goes back to the elemental need to listen, learn, and empathize. Everyone has a story and their unique experiences.

So, please, both in agvocacy and in life…lower your waterline.

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