This wasn’t the post I was expecting to write this week but I’m learning to ‘go with it’! Jim and I, our daughter, Kaitlyn, and her fiancé, Matt just went on an incredible one day adventure yesterday. We flew from Calgary to Churchill, Manitoba for a one day, once in a lifetime, Polar Bear Safari! (Ok, maybe twice for me as I’d love to go again)
As usual, there is wisdom in everything and here is a tidbit from what I learned yesterday. As we made the short bus ride from the charter plane to the place where we boarded the tundra buggy along the beautiful coast of Hudson Bay, the bus driver, Paul, was telling us a bit about living in Churchill and about the bears. He pointed out a building that he told us was the Bear Jail.
Here is the story. In the 1970’s and early ‘80’s if a bear wondered into town, it was shot. Everyone had a gun. Bears were seen as a nuisance, and they absolutely were a threat. At that time, people simply didn’t understand that much about the bears and certainly did not take into account the implications of shooting them. Many were killed each year.
Flash forward almost 40 years. Now, bears are almost never killed in Churchill if there is an alternative. One such alternative is the Bear Jail. When a bear presents itself as a problem now, the bear is captured and placed in the Bear Jail until it can be sedated and then airlifted away from town. Sometimes the bear has to be in the jail for many days until resources are available for air lift. While we were there, there were 18 bears in the jail.
Paul told us that the first years they did this they fed the bears that were in jail. They later realized that once they were released, these fed bears returned to town and became problems year after year because they realized that the jail was a good and easy place to get food. Keep in mind that at this time of year, the bears are waiting to go out on the ice to hunt seals. They have not eaten since spring time and they are hungry. Paul said that in jail now, the bears are given ice and water, but no food. He reminded us that even though this might seem cruel, a hungry bear is much better than a dead bear. And he reminded us that bears in the wild go months without food at this time of the year. He knows that people might criticize this practice but that it is best for the bears.
I thought about the times in our lives when we have to deal with a person with a bad behaviour that our reaction is to do something that makes US feel better. We justify that this is kind (feed the jailed bear). For instance, if we deal with a person who gets upset when things don’t go their way, we tend to avoid having that happen. We often do this so that we don’t have to watch them, or deal with them, being upset. We might give them what they want even when we know it is not the best solution but it makes us feel like we are being kind. We might begin to foresee what could upset them and start planning to avoid having it happen at all. They never have to change their behavior (being bad bears) because in the end they get what they want by doing it. When we do these things, we are simply reinforcing the very behaviour that we do not want or like. We stop their bad behaviour for the moment, but soon they are back, doing the exact same thing, knowing how we will respond. And we ‘feed’ them again.
Our bus had flat tire on the way back to the airport in the dark and Paul had to call for a new bus. We were transferred onto it very carefully, as Paul’s wife had radioed the bus and warned him that there was a huge polar bear at Paul’s house, which was near to where we were. Paul removed the rather large gun that he carries on his bus and brought it with us. The new bus driver dropped Paul off at the end of his driveway and we watched him trudge up the driveway with his gun, in the dark, making plenty of noise to warn the bear. He said that he wasn’t afraid, that this was just life and he was very glad that he and the rest of the resident’s of Churchill, were learning to live in relationship with the bears. The bears did not have to be shot, nor did they always have to get what they wanted. They have learned to co-exist.
I’m going to offer that we stop feeding the bears in our lives. If you notice yourself responding to a colleague or friend in a way that does not stop a behaviour that is not wanted, but simply reinforces it, try responding in a new way (take away their proverbial food). It will be uncomfortable at first. In fact, their behaviour might escalate for a bit as they test you to make sure that you are really serious about not ‘feeding’ them anymore. But, gradually, they’ll figure out that they need to change their behaviour, or go find someone else who is willing to feed them.
Thanks Churchill, Manitoba. I had the most amazing day in your backyard yesterday. I’ll treasure it for a long time to come.