As in other negotiation and mediation trainings, the first case introduced to us 20 trainees from 13 Asian, African and Central/South American countries is the controversial “Crocodile River Story”:
“Once there lived a woman named Abigail who was in love with a man named Greg. Greg lived on the opposite side of a crocodile-infested river. Abigail wanted to cross the river to be with Greg, but the bridge had been washed out by a heavy flood the previous week. So she went to ask Sinbad, a riverboat captain, to take her across. He said he would be glad to if she would consent to go to bed with him before the trip. She refused and went to a friend named Ivan to explain her plight. Ivan did not want to get involved at all in the situation. Abigail felt her only alternative was to accept Sinbad’s terms. After she had been to bed with him, Sinbad fulfilled his promise and delivered her across the river to Greg. When she told Greg about her amorous adventure, Greg cast her aside with disdain. Heartsick and rejected, she turned to Slug with her story. Slug, feeling compassion for her, sought out Greg and beat him brutally. Abigail was overjoyed at the sight of Greg getting his due. As the sun set on the horizon, people heard Abigail laughing at Greg.”
Each of us was instructed to rank the characters in the story from 1 (who you think is ‘best’) to 5 (who you think is ‘worst’). Then we were divided into small groups with three or four members each, and each group was asked to come up with a common ranking. Thereafter, members of each group were asked to select their group representative to negotiate with the representatives of other groups to come up with a common ranking.
I’m sure, you can now expect the outcome of the exercise:
For the subgroup where I belonged, three of us agreed on ranking Sinbad as the number 1 (‘the best’) on the basis of rational choice theory and material cost-benefit analysis, but one us firmly stood his ground of ranking Sinbad as the number 5 (‘the worst’). In the end, we failed to agree on a single ranking.
And the same disagreement was the outcome of the representatives’ long, emotionally-charged negotiation.
What is your take?
Is Sinbad the best, or the worst?
1. Before negotiating with the other parties, the criterion/criteria must be clarified upon. Technically, it is called “Rules and Procedures.”
2. Nothing is agreed upon unless something is agreed upon.
(An excerpt of the forthcoming travelogue, “Hugging the Hague: Winter Stint at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations,” Mansoor Limba (Amazon.com, 2018.)