For me, one of the TV highlights in the run-up to last Christmas was the BBC repeat of a documentary presented by the naturalist Gordon Buchanan which was filmed in the Canadian town of Churchill, a town situated on the shores of Hudson Bay within the Arctic Circle.
Unlike many other large predators, for polar bears, winter is a very important season. When Hudson Bay and other sea areas freeze over the bears migrate to them and hunt seals. They do this by walking on the thick ice that will support their body weight, detecting seals swimming underneath and then punching holes in the ice and catching them. In anticipation of the big freeze, hungry bears, who may not have eaten for months and who would otherwise have led quite solitary existences, start gathering on the seashore.
One favoured gathering point is the area in and around Churchill. The bears have been doing so for generations, the result of genetic instincts that long predate the founding of this town. Because they are hungry they are not deterred either by the presence of humans or the unpleasant detritus e.g. noise, motor vehicles and noxious smells that the people have brought with them.
These animals are not noted for their lack of aggression. Although seal is a favoured meal the hungry bears are not averse to varying their diet and there are innumerable well documented instances of them attacking and eating humans. This necessarily means that come the autumn, the citizens of Churchill have to be a bit careful. They are susceptible to attack from the bears who, possibly attracted by the smell of household refuse, quite nonchalantly wander around town, particularly at night. Indeed, as part of his objective and very neutral presentation, Buchanan interviewed one citizen who had miraculously survived an attack.
Matters are made worse by the curious outsiders who descend on Churchill in order to “see the bears”. Some of these people go on organised trips but others just drive around and do not fully appreciate that even in the confines of their motor vehicles, they are by no means safe from a large predator that would not baulk at smashing in a side window or windscreen with one of its large, powerful paws.
Understandably anxious to try to ensure that neither local citizenry nor tourists are not converted into happy meals, local law enforcement agencies have devised a number of strategies to maintain a level of distance between bears and humans. There are regular patrols whose officers either scare bears off or very firmly tell tourists “who really ought to know better” who get out of their vehicles to observe their quarry, to get right back in and drive away. There are also stratagems such as benign but effective traps and bear proof objects such as very strong fencing to keep the bears out of potentially favoured spots such as the local garbage disposal facility.
Bears may be captured in the traps and transported long distances before being released but in practice very few are killed or otherwise harmed – very much a case of the authorities adopting a harm minimisation strategy which if Buchanan’s film is anything to go by, appears to be quite effective. Better that specially trained law-enforcement officers being peacekeepers, separators and sometimes arbiters, than human beings being killed which would inevitably lead to bears being hunted down and destroyed.
And so to Early Dispute Avoidance and Early Dispute Resolution, services that are at the very heart of the #AlbertSquareMediation ethos. In much the same way that Churchill tourists get out of their cars and do not appreciate the danger that they face from powerful, aggressive and very fast moving bears, in day-to-day life people either ignore or fail to identify the warning signs of dispute that emanate from potentially difficult situations, be they in a domestic, workplace, commercial or public sector environment.
Equally, even if the warning signs are identified, very often the people affected or responsible for dealing with a particular situation may not have the levels of insight, authority or objectivity required or may simply ignore them. Accordingly they may look to traditional forms of law-enforcement e.g. formally complaining to the police/enforcement authorities, a managerial official or senior professional or by taking a case to a court or tribunal. Invariably such officials, agencies and institutions will “apply” the law and sanctions may be ordered or implemented. However, although some may perceive that “justice has been done” others will not agree; discord and rancour may well continue – all because something was not done when “trouble first started brewing”.
In some instances, decisive action e.g. from a workplace manager, an open-minded law enforcement officer or an enlightened court official may suffice but not always. What many potentially difficult situations often need is none of the above. Rather what is often required is an objective and totally neutral outsider, a facilitator, who will be able to talk to the parties concerned and get them round the table so as to open up the channels of communication.
The experience of the #AlbertSquareMediation team is that in many instances, this type of facilitation will help ensure that a significant level of dispute does not arise in the first place. Alternatively if it has, a facilitator can still help those involved address their grievances and resolve them very early on, even before the point that mediation would be required.
EDA and EDR are both quick and effective and are not half hearted, cost saving options. Rather than utilise the “least said, soonest mended” or “sweeping it under the carpet” approach that is all too often applied when disputes start brewing, neutral facilitators ensure that everyone’s concerns get a proper airing. Just as in mediation, we ensure that people not only have the chance to speak but also have the opportunity both to listen and to be listened to.
If you see a loud, growling, angry looking thing lumbering towards you, the chances are that it will not be a polar bear. However, it may be the sort of dispute or conflict that if not dealt with promptly, may never get sorted out properly and perhaps will have significant adverse, even catastrophic consequences. #AlbertSquareMediation’s Team Members are all very adept at addressing such situations and in so doing will save those involved considerable sums of time, money and distress. We are experts in dispute resolution and are ready, able and willing to help whenever required.
Enquiries and expressions of interest should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org or, for an initial, no obligation discussion, please telephone Paul Sandford on 7476 279 307
Principal Director of ASM PLUS, civil/commercial, workplace, employment, family and educational mediator and trainer with a judicial/legal background. He has knowledge and expertise in dispute resolution in a wide range of areas and disciplines and mediates online.