Killer Whales The controversy surrounding the tragic death this week of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau reminded me of one of the foremost rules of conflict resolution:  You must listen to the other side’s argument with the goal of  understanding the opposing perspective.

Brancheau drowned when one of the Orcas, or “killer whales” held her underwater.  Eyewitness accounts say the whale jumped from the water, grabbed Brancheau and shook her violently before submerging.  See “SeaWorld Trainer Killed by Killer Whale”.

Some say that wild animals should never be in captivity because they will almost always respond to the less-than-ideal conditions in ways that will harm or kill their human caretakers.  Others argue that for scientific reasons, and to gain information about how to care for populations in the wild, the animals held in captivity contribute to the greater good of their species.  The benefits are worth the risks caretakers knowingly assume, they say.

When most people are in a dispute, the first thing they do is stop listening, or only listen with a view toward formulating arguments to prove their point.  While that might help win an argument (and possibly lose a friend), it won’t resolve the conflict.  The only way to settle a dispute or solve a problem of any kind is to listen carefully and with an open mind to what the other person is saying.  Perhaps his or her point is actually true or has a valid basis.

In mediation, I learn people’s underlying interests by encouraging them to tell their perspective until they disclose what is really keeping them from resolution.  That’s what listening accomplishes:  a better understanding of what your opponent believes you are doing wrong and how he or she wants you to help fix the situation.   If you listen the way a mediator does, you can also uncover a surprising number of commonalities and points of agreement.

If both sides of the whales-in-captivity argument would stop talking and start hearing, they might discover they have the same goal:  the assurance that whale populations in the wild remain healthy and safe from extinction.  Beginning from that point might allow them to resolve together the peripheral issues of how to provide the most natural and welcoming accommodations for whales in captivity and exacting safety measures for their trainers.

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6 Responses to “SeaWorld Tragedy: Time for Both Sides to Listen to the Opposing Views About Whale Captivity”

  1. Lionel Williams Says:

    In light of the lost of human life; by someone who obviously cared for the animal in question, it is tragic. However, we have recently learned about the high intelligence of dolphins and other mammals species we enjoy keeping in captivity. Movies like Planet of the Apes, Free Willie, Star Trek and others delivered the messages long ago. Perhaps the whales will mediate for us!!

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  2. Lee Jay Berman Says:

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    From reader Trevor Meyer (via Talk It Over Radio Show Fans on Linked In):

    It is very difficult to bring light to a subject when someone will not listen to others. Position vs. Principal. One of the things that I like most about mediating, is trying to find a way to allow the person who holds to their principal(s) until I find a way to help them see the other side (or at least to view it from a different perspective), this usually can only come from a positive place.

    I am sure that both sides in this discussion have valid points, do you have wild animals in captivity or should all wild animals be free?

    Thank you Lee Jay, for putting a topic out there to think about.

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  3. Lee Jay Berman Says:

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    From reader Nate Adler:

    Lee Jay, it looks great, and better yet, I was quite taken by your timely, thoughtful, and on-point discussion of the Sea World tragedy. You are doing what I want to do–instill in others the desire to approach problems by viewing alternatives, hearing the other side, and finding common ground first before drawing lines in the sand. Your piece on Sea World was excellent.

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  4. Lee Jay Berman Says:

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    From reader Lisa Roseli Veizades:

    Looks like you’re off to a great start. I’ve got your site bookmarked…can’t wait to see what comes next. I enjoy your insights into the world of mediation.

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  5. Rileigh Says:

    You’re the one with the brains here. I’m wondering why someone like you isn’t in charge. I’’m watcinhg for your posts.

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  6. Fats Says:

    Kudos! What a neat way of thnkiing about it.

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