By Michael Benjamin
A Mexican, bored with life in his country migrated to these parts to bask in the sweet Caribbean ambience. He loved eggs so much that he decided to walk along with a few of his hens so that he could enjoy the commodity while away from home. Every morning, at least one of those birds laid an egg which he cooked for his breakfast.
One morning he awoke and discovered that his hen had flown into his neighbour’s yard and laid a large brown egg.
Determined to have it for his breakfast the Mexican called out to his neighbour and requested that he hand over the egg. Greed stepped in and the neighbour refused to do his bidding. “You see,” he told the Mexican, “In this country if a fowl crosses the borderline and lays in another man’s property, the person in whose yard the egg was laid gets to keep it.”
The Mexican, tears in his eyes replied, “In me country we gat difrent rules. Like how me fowl lay in you yard this is how we settle it. You bend ova and I kick you in de butt. Then I bend ova and you kick me in de butt. De one that screams de loudest lose de bet and gat to hand ova de egg to de other one.”
Satisfied with this arrangement the disgruntled neighbour agreed. He bent over and the Mexican ran in from two yards and delivered a fierce kick to his rear. Try as he might he could not stifle the bloodcurdling scream that emitted from his throat. After a few moments, when he had recovered from the mighty kick to his derriere he said to the Mexican.
“Okay, you had your turn, now bend over and let us establish who will own this egg.” The Mexican scratched his head and responded, “On second thoughts, ye can keep de egg.”
It might not have been the most ideal way of resolving the issue but the Mexican managed to settle his grouse and even though he lost the egg, he felt thoroughly compensated.
The local situation presents a certain foreboding and the recent upsurge of disagreements that ended violently has simply underlined the need for Guyanese to find an amicable middle ground to solve their problems and situations.
For far too long, and this is despite our national motto of one people, one nation, one destiny, Guyanese for the most part, have failed to find ideal, non violent ways of addressing their differences. Recently, it seems painfully obvious that efforts have reached a stalemate and large sections of the citizenry have lost all respect for the laws of the land. Suddenly, arbitration is not an option and sadly, most issues are resolved at knife point or over the barrel of the gun.
On the domestic front, an insignificant lover’s spat quickly would develop into raging warfare; the concomitant result being grave injury or death to one or both parties involved. Land disputes among families and friends, division of property and a host of other conflicts culminate in raging infernos that necessitate the intervention of the courts. The sloth of justice sometimes precipitates frustration by the parties involved resulting in extra judicial actions by warring factions. It seems as though hardly anyone is interested in discussing disputes to an amicable end.
This method of resolving issues is not only endemic among the proletariat but has transcended onto the national level and sadly, our politicians have joined the fray. Discussing issues of national benefits culminates in rambunctious confrontations, name calling and totally disrespectful remarks that have made a mockery of our national motto.
Resolving conflicts is not easily attained as some people come to the bargaining table with a concretized mindset and refuse to budge unless all (not some) of their concerns are resolved to their advantage. ‘Compromise’ is a non existent part of their vocabulary.
Conflict resolution is a range of methods used in the elimination of volatile disagreements.
Processes of conflict resolution generally include negotiation, mediation, and diplomacy, traits that seem to be lacking from the repertoire of our decision makers. It is, therefore, reasonable to assume that the behaviours of the hierarchy of our institutions are reflected in the general citizenry. As the old idiom goes, “wha fall from head ah drop ah shoulders.”
The processes of arbitration, litigation, and formal complaint processes channeled through the office of the Ombudsman are usually described with the term dispute resolution, although some refer to them as ‘conflict resolution.’
Whatever the accepted term, the end result creates peace and social harmony, an elusive variable in today’s gluttonous world.
In the absence of the Office of the Ombudsman, citizens may resort to the Mediation Centre, situated in the compound of the High Court; an organization of legal luminaries that deal with the resolution of civil disputes. I am advised that decisions arising out of this organization are legal and binding.
Then there is Help and Shelter, another entity that deals with family disputes. While these entities are valuable in the maintenance of law and order through conflict resolution, it behooves each citizen to develop favourable ways of resolving conflict, devoid of violence and aggravation.
A few years ago I participated in a six-week workshop that dealt with the vagaries of conflict resolution. One of the deterrents to amicable resolution of conflict is volatile communicational skills. We were exposed to the intricacies of non-violent communication as a means of avoiding unnecessary conflict. Who was it that said that a soft answer turns away wrath? One of my tutor’s messages remains endemic in my mind. She juxtaposed amicable speech with likened behavioral responses.
“The first step to fully expressing anger in non violent communication is to divorce the other person from any responsibility for our anger.” She advised us to establish a clear distinction between stimulus and cause and strengthened her argument by relating a certain discussion between an inmate and his counselor.
Inmate: Three weeks ago I made a request to the prison officials and they still haven’t responded to my request.
Counselor: So when this happened, you felt angry, why? Inmate:”I just told you. They don’t respond to my request.”
Counselor: Hold it. Instead of saying, ‘I feel angry because they ….’ Stop and become conscious of what you’re telling yourself that’s making you angry.”
Inmate: “I’m telling myself that they have no respect for human beings; they are a bunch of cold, faceless bureaucrats who don’t give a damn about nobody but themselves. They are a bunch of ……”
Counselor “Thanks that’s enough. Now you know why you’re angry — it’s that kind of thinking.”
Inmate: “But what’s wrong with thinking that way?”
Counselor: “I’m not saying there’s something wrong with you thinking that way. All I’m saying is that the kind of thinking on your part makes you feel angry. Focus your attention on your needs; what are your needs in this situation?”
Inmate: “I need the training I was requesting. If I don’t get that training, as sure as I’m sitting here, I’m gonna end up back in this cage right after I get out.”
The counselor remained silent for a few minutes then said, “Now put yourself in the shoes of the warder, would an inmate get his needs met if he approached you abrasively or tells you to your face that you are a faceless bureaucrat?”
John stares at the floor and remains silent.
The lesson my facilitator was attempting to establish was that attitude, correct coinage of words and an honest, unbiased examination of the situation (which produces a more balanced and fair response) would have opened new ways of analysis and by extension, new problem solving techniques.
Ever since those sessions I have had cause to reflect on the lessons taught. Of course I have slipped up on many occasions, snarling and generally making myself incorrigible and distant from my colleagues and family when I should have been forcing a smile.
In those days when my anger was at the proverbial ‘tip of my nose’ my mother would advise me to count to ten. I did but unlike a boxing match where the count signaled the end of the
contest, I felt more riled up.
Obviously, if Guyanese are to grapple with their respective conflicts there is need for more sages and elders within our communities, guiding the reconstructive process. There must be some amount of tolerance and advice similar to that of the rabbi that mediated in a dispute between two brothers whose father died and left a large piece of property for them. For months they fought over how the land should be divided. Finally, they brought their problem to their rabbi and asked him to solve it.
“Come back tomorrow,” said the rabbi, “and we’ll talk.”
The next day the sons returned and the rabbi gave them his solution.
“Toss a coin,” he said to one of the brothers. “You call it, heads or tails,” he said to the other. “The one who wins the toss divides the land.”
“That’s no solution,” said one of the brothers. “We’re right back where we started from.”
“Not so,” said the rabbi. “The one who wins the toss divides the land; but the other gets first choice.”
In the absence of such sound reasoning techniques the only alternative might be to resort to the good old fashioned Mexican way. ¡Adiós!
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