Considering how strange this year has been, it was still an unusual day at work, last week – two zoom meetings rescheduled, a mediation called off and a no-show at two consecutive mediation pitches by participants with prior registration. Packed schedules? Virtual burn-out? Personal Emergencies? Coincidence or not, later that evening when my laptop blinkered, froze, and groaned off to sleep, the message was clear – it’s been an unpredictable year, where we have pushed ourselves and our gadgets to the limits, and everything, living and non-living, needs a break!
Normally, I would have been frustrated about an unproductive day, but such days take me back to a morning at the beach. As darkness turned to dawn in Goa, the fishermen who had ventured into the sea at around 3.30am that morning had just returned with no catch. I saw the workers scanning through their nets only to find a few stray sardines that filled up one single basket. As dozens of empty fish baskets lay stacked up nearby, and the fisherwomen conducted the post-mortem of the failed voyage, the owner of the canoe was calm and focussed. No sign of despair or frustration. Having a prior acquaintance, I walked up to him and said, “Bad luck, eh?” He smiled and responded, almost as a matter of fact, “Yes, but there’s still plenty of fish in the sea, we just didn’t catch any today.”
This memory at the beach is my mental escape route, whenever things do not go as planned. Failures are inevitable, especially when you are testing unchartered waters with an idea that instigates opposition as much as it inspires support. Advocating for private mediation practice, especially in a litigious society, is a task characterised by more troughs than crests, but as the boatman said to me that morning, “today, we failed, but, tomorrow, we go again!”
Enquiry calls have doubled since the pandemic, but this buzz has somehow not translated to mediations. Bringing parties to the table is a massive task considering mediation is a voluntary process and that no matter how persuasive you may be, they still have the option to decline – for absolutely no reason. Unprofessional legal advice, discomfort in sitting across the table for a dialogue, the raw desire to chastise the other for a win-lose outcome or simply drain their resources into a surrender are few of many uncontrollable factors for a no-show. Despite it being no fault of us that the parties fails to convene for a mediation, we cannot wash our hands off the situation and blindly cast the net out the next morning.
“We got to get rid of any waste, sea weed or plastic that might be still stuck to the net. We have to go in there fresh tomorrow,” the boatman explained to his workers, before laying the net all out to dry in the summer sun. His resilient spirit rubbed off on the rest of the group, as they all joined him cleaning the fishing nets.
They then huddled for a brief chat about how they might have avoided a total failure if the workers on the shore were on time to pull in the catch that their colleagues at sea had cast a net out for. There was no blame game, just an observation of what they might have salvaged a bad day, if the circumstances were different. This exercise of reviewing, reflecting and refreshing is crucial to most occupations, very much so to private mediation which is still an evolving and developing profession across the globe, especially in India.
Writing in Forbes, Anna Powers says some of us treat ‘failure’ like the ‘plague’ causing us to live in fear and anxiety; thwarting us from embracing and using it as a springboard for innovation and evolution. Denying ourselves an odd instance to fail is a missed opportunity to review, reflect and refresh for the future. And sometimes, when we are working in top gear with minimal time for retrospection, only a flat tire can make us stop in our tracks and contemplate on what isn’t working and what needs change. Persistence without reflection is pointless. So, here’s wishing we all find time to reflect, rejuvenate and restart afresh.
I met the boatman a few days later when he was busy filling up baskets of his bumper catch. “Good catch, eh?” I said. “Yes, today was a good day, but tomorrow we go again!” he said, heading back to mending the nets. For him, the mantra to success was dependent on the catch. Resilience and persistence are part of a successful reflective and review process. The mediation hotlines will ring more frequently in time, and we must be prepared to serve when called upon.