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The history of negotiation, mediation and arbitration

Early Alternative Dispute Resolution

[1]Two men glare at each other. Long-haired and bearded, their garments oily from use, they hold gnarled clubs loosely at their sides. Emotions have been building since the rainy season started and the river overflowed. Who will be forced to brave the swollen river to hunt, and who will hunt near their village? Today it will be decided. With war cries, the disputants raise their clubs and begin to circle.

Suddenly an old man appears, shouting “Behold, the Deciding Stone!” The two men stop in midstride. The old man says, “Ush, the smooth side is yours; Ore, the rough side is yours.” The pair hesitate, looking angrily at each other and at the old man, and finally they nod in agreement.

With all his might, the old man throws the stone into the air. Their heads turn to the sky as they watch the stone turn over and over.

This imaged story of prehistoric times illustrates that while humans have always had the tendency to solve their differences by fighting, they also have recognized the benefits of settling matters peacefully by flipping a coin or some other peaceful way. This search for alternatives to violence is a precursor to today’s alternative dispute resolution (ADR).

[1] This fictional story is from A History of Alternative Dispute Resolution: The Story of a Political, Cultural, and Social Movement by Jerome T. Barrett. (2004 Jossey-Bass)

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