I facilitated a meeting recently in a community that had been damaged by a major polluter. Land and water were contaminated and local activists were coming together to push for cleanup from state and federal agencies. Some organizations had filed lawsuits that were making their way, slowly and expensively, through the court system. Others had been organizing events to spread information about the contamination and build lobbying support in the legislature. Some were working with junior and senior high school students in hopes that they would take up the cause and hopefully see results in their lifetimes.
The conversation focused on the litigation. Lawyers presented updates: more money was needed, it would take more time, the outcome was uncertain. They asked for continued support of the legal remedies. “We can’t give up now.” “This is the way to force a cleanup.” “We need to bring justice to the community.” No one doubted the commitment, and often sacrifice, of these public interest attorneys.
My advice to anyone entering a conflict, either as a party or a conflict resolver, is to learn about the landscape — not just the geography, natural resources and climate, but also the cultural landscape. What values guide decisions? What are the economics, politics and history of the place?
And, so when I was invited to Uppsala to speak to graduate students studying environmental conflict resolution, I immediately turned my attention to the Swedish landscape. I began, of course, by binge-watching Swedish TV shows and movies. There is a wealth of nail-biting Swedish entertainment out there — “The Bridge,” “Johan Falk,” “Beck,” “Modus,” “Wallander” – all excellent.
We just finished the “Sandhamn Murders,” which I highly recommend. A troubled policeman with an ex-wife in the wings meets a gorgeous, bicycle-riding, flower-arranging, gourmet-cooking woman, mother of two supremely healthy children, who is unhappy in her marriage. As they flirt and misfire with each other, horrific murders are committed by the last person you would suspect. The setting is an island of summer homes owned by vacationers who wear very natty, color coordinated casual wear and poor locals who mostly repair boats and drink a lot of beer. All this screen time in the interest of understanding the Swedish “landscape” has been perfect for a non-academic, TV addict like myself. I admit that this style of immersion is like learning about the US Southwest by watching John Wayne movies and “Breaking Bad.” But I have come a long way from my previous “landscape of Sweden,” which was pretty much limited to pickled herring, Santa Lucia with candles on her head, winter sports and Northern Lights. (more…)