I’ll Huff and Puff and Go to Conflict Mediation

By Gabriel Ertsgaard

A coffee house; fairy tale illustrations adorn the walls. A realist and a fabulist share a table (with the latter dressed more colorfully than the former). Regarding the gender, age, and ethnicity of these characters, imagine them as you wish. For those who prefer more parameters, however, let’s stipulate that the following conversation takes place on a Wednesday at precisely 3:13 pm.

Fabulist: Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the story of the Three Little Pigs. 

Realist: I beg your pardon?

Fabulist: You know the one. “Little pig, little pig, let me in!” Then the wolf blows down the house made of straw and eats the first pig. “Little pig, little pig, let me in!” Then the wolf blows down the house made of sticks and eats the second pig. But the wolf can’t blow down a house made of bricks, so he goes down the chimney instead—which is a bad idea because he lands in a cauldron of boiling water and suffers this painful, horrible death.

Realist: Yes, I’m familiar with the fairy tale. I might regret asking, but why have you been pondering the Three Little Pigs?

Fabulist: Well, if you really think about it (which again, I’ve been doing a lot of lately) that story doesn’t end well for anyone involved. The first two pigs, they get gobbled up by the wolf. So that’s definitely a bad outcome from their perspective. Then the wolf does that whole jacuzzi of doom thing. As for the third little pig, he may be physically unscathed at the end, but survivor’s guilt is going to haunt him for the rest of his life. Nobody gets a happy ending.

Realist: Well, that’s an interesting take. So the tale is a tragedy rather than comedy. Characters caught by the cruel whims of fate, if you will.

Fabulist: But that’s just the thing, it wasn’t fate. It didn’t have to go that way.

Realist: No?

Fabulist: Not at all. Thanks to this life-altering Zoom workshop I recently attended called “Alternative Dispute Resolution for Gummies,” I have a whole new perspective on the fairy tale. 

Realist: Did you say “for Gummies”?

Fabulist: They changed the name after a trademark complaint.

Realist: Of course. Please continue. 

Fabulist: You see, the pigs and the wolf are caught in a conflict trap, so they need the help of a good mediator to work their way out.

Realist: I don’t know if a mediator could do much. This fairy tale scenario seems like an especially tricky dispute, given that one of the disputants tries to literally consume the others.

Fabulist: Tricky, but not impossible. The key, of course, is to find a real pro—one who’s read Getting to Yes at the very minimum. Otherwise, you might get stuck with some woodblock who thinks the only solution is to split the difference between the two parties’ opening positions: “Let’s see, so Mr. Wolf, you wish to eat three pigs. And let me check my notes, the Pig family, you maintain that Mr. Wolf should eat zero pigs. Well, obviously a fair settlement is for Mr. Wolf to eat 1 1/2 pigs.” That’s not a wise solution. (Why not? Ask half a pig.)

Realist: Point granted, but what’s the alternative? 

Fabulist: A real pro would push both parties to dig past their initial “positions” to their underlying “interests.” So what are the pigs’ interests? Safety, security, not getting eaten. Let’s add “not living in fear” to that list. And the wolf? Well he doesn’t want to starve, obviously. For that matter, the wolf might want some safety and security as well. No getting boiled alive. 

Realist: I think I follow you. We’re not trying to find a midway point between their positions. Rather, were trying to address all of their interests, or at least as many as possible. Basically, we just need to figure out how to feed the wolf without feeding him the pigs, and how to provide safety and security for all.

Fabulist: That’s it exactly! Let’s start with feeding the wolf. He can’t just waltz into Trader Joe’s, of course, but this is the golden age of grocery delivery services. That’s an easy work-around. The bigger issue is that someone has to pay the grocer, and this wolf is clearly broke. You don’t knock down houses and eat the inhabitants if you have food money sitting in your checking account.

Realist: Agreed, that’s uncommon behavior. Well, there’s a rather obvious if mercenary solution. Just have the pigs pay the wolf off. Not a lump sum, which the wolf might very well blow through, but smaller, monthly payments. Better to help the wolf buy his lunch than to become the wolf’s lunch. 

Fabulist: I see where you’re coming from, but I can’t quite get on board with that. It just feels too much like a mafia insurance scheme for my comfort. Besides, it misses some important interests. The pigs would worry about the wolf getting greedy for more. The wolf would worry about the pigs bumping him off to eliminate an ongoing expense. No one would feel safe or secure.

Realist: Let’s not reject my idea too quickly. Even if isn’t perfect, at least it improves the situation.

Fabulist: Don’t get me wrong, I think we’re on the right track. But dig a level deeper, and what we’re really talking about is a steady income stream for the wolf. 

Realist: I suppose that’s true.

Fabulist: Well, we can handle that the old-fashioned way. We need to find this wolf a job.

Realist: I’m always on board with capitalism as the answer. But to put it crudely, this can’t be a “crap job” if we expect the wolf to change his life. 

Fabulist: Absolutely. It has to be meaningful work suited to his gifts. And I know just the industry for that.

Realist: Which is … ?

Fabulist: Wind energy. 

Realist: Really?

Fabulist: Think about it. It’s a fantastic, clean source of power, with one big limitation: you can’t schedule the wind. That’s why you still need something messier as backup. This wolf, though, can huff and puff and blow up his own windstorm. 

Realist: Granted. But there’s a flaw with your plan: We perpetually need energy. Yet a single wolf, no matter how talented, cannot serve as a full-time energy source. To even come close, he’d have to be chained to the windmill (literally or figuratively).

Fabulist: It’s true, of course, that he can’t work 24/7, but he doesn’t need to. Just schedule the wolf during peak times, and that’s a clean energy game-changer. Power companies would climb over each other to hire him.

Realist: I’m not so sure about that. After all, he’s still a wolf. Would he even get an interview? Bias against wolves isn’t covered under our labor laws.

Fabulist: Maybe he doesn’t need an employer, then. You know what would really make this worthwhile for the wolf? Controlling the means of production. That’s right, forget about working for somebody else. Our wolf should go into business for himself and sell straight to the grid. He’d couldn’t do this alone, though. No, he’d need a business partner. Someone with construction and engineering skills. Someone who could build a specialized power plant. Someone with a head for project management. 

Realist: Surely you don’t mean …

Fabulist: Someone like the third little pig. The Big, Bad Wolf and Pig of Brick House. If instead of being mortal enemies, those two went into business together, they could become the barons of wind energy. Now that’s a wise solution.

Realist: To be honest, this is starting to seem rather far-fetched. Moving past their differences, leading a green energy revolution … that’s quite a lot to accept.

Fabulist: So let me get this straight, you’re willing to grant me three talking pigs and a wolf who blows down walls—but conflict mediation and renewable energy, those are what you find unrealistic? That attitude, my friend, will get this world stuck in a mess. It’s hard for good things to happen if you refuse to imagine that they’re possible.




Gabriel Ertsgaard is the Interviews Editor for The Peace Chronicle and Copy Editor for the literary journal Drifting Sands. He earned his Doctor of Letters from Drew University with a dissertation on environmental themes in a medieval legend. He has taught college-level English courses in the United States and China. His criticism, poetry, and fairy tales have appeared in over a dozen publications.