Welcome to 2020, with Resolve

Welcome to 2020, with Resolve

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.” — Albert Einstein

Welcome to 2020.  A new year with new beginnings, new opportunities and, yes, new resolutions.  The top resolutions for 2020 are remarkably akin to the New Year’s resolutions lists over the last ten years.  We can take from that we apparently give up or fail on an annual basis.  Alternatively, we can more properly accept Albert Einstein’s counsel that the past teaches us, we can try anew with the simple turn of a calendar page, and know that the future may provide additional opportunities.  For one, I prefer this latter optimistic view.

As to specific resolutions, once again the top spot goes to the promise to lose weight.  Not far behind are resolutions to improve fitness and exercise; improve finances; eat healthier; and get a new job.  Rounding out the list of top resolutions for 2020: better manage stress; improve relationships; stop procrastinating; set aside time for oneself; and stop smoking.

In researching the consensus top resolutions for 2020, the absence of one category struck me as odd.  Not listed among resolutions was to cut down screen time on electronic devices and have more actual face time with family and friends.  Without my request of such data, my smartphone and tablet began sending me weekly reports of the amount of screen time used over the past week.  Admittedly, I try not to be a large consumer of electronic services.  Nonetheless, I was appalled at the number of minutes of screen time reported and my weekly goal became to have lower totals each week.  Of course, I mined the data of the top 2020 New Year’s resolutions from internet sites and they probably would not be well served with stories directing users to resolve to less frequently visit their sites.

“Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbor, and let every new year find you a better man.” – Benjamin Franklin

The sage Benjamin Franklin summed up our approach to resolutions.  We generally seek to curtail bad practices or conduct and enhance those aspects which improve upon ourselves and our relations.  The 2020 list of resolutions reflects this approach and establishes the timelessness of Franklin’s words.

For my mediation practice, I will focus on Franklin’s directive to be “at peace with your neighbors”.  Way too often I hear from mediation participants that the underlying litigation is already, or soon will be, economically upside down.  That is, the transaction costs on all sides will outpace case worth and recoveries.  Routinely, litigation budgets have been exceeded even well before the parties reach agreement to mediate.

Parties need to plainly understand and appreciate that litigation is quite often a poor economic proposition which only worsens with time.  If I can effectively illustrate that point, peace among neighbors may follow through settlement as the economically sane alternative.

“The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Socrates

Each of the resolutions on this year’s list requires change of some sort.  Actions, conduct or attitudes must change to accomplish goals.  As Socrates directs, do not battle the old ways which did not work for you.  Learn from the past and use lessons learned.  However, do not be stuck in the past.

Examples abound of people stuck in the conduct of the past and, accordingly, stuck in a cycle which cannot change.  Perhaps they do not wish to change.  Perhaps, in their view, the past worked well so why even consider change.

Take our top government leaders as anti-change slaves as we are on the cusp of an historic Senate trial on impeachment of the President of the U.S.  I presume each leader would declare that Washington is broken, politicians of different parties refuse to cooperate, and fault lies squarely and exclusively with the opposing political party.  Each leader would express a desire for “change”.

Already impeached, does anyone in America expect Trump to cease his bullying ways, stop the juvenile name calling, and strike a conciliatory tone?  Of course not.  These intimidation tactics and claiming the mantle of victim fueled his rise in the business and political world.  Change is for others, not Trump in his impeachment trial.  

How about McConnell?  As an experienced master of Senate procedural rules, McConnell can shape an impeachment trial most would view as fair and even bipartisan.  No chance.  McConnell famously responded to a new Senator who passionately argued in favor of some legislation: “You are speaking of policy while I care only of politics.”  McConnell already has the impeachment situation on lock down.  If any GOP Senators stray, McConnell will remind them that he alone controls disbursements from the largest Senatorial SuperPac.  No change here.

That leaves Pelosi.  She navigated the turbulent waters of impeachment in the House of Representatives.  She succeeded.  Game.  Set.  Match.  But wait, Pelosi apparently cannot let go of the Articles of Impeachment until she receives further concessions.  She loses power and control with release of the impeachment articles and that is not in her DNA.  Expect some final gamesmanship on that issue and certainly no change.

The top dogs in D.C. unfortunately appear to have no interest in “building the new”.  They forever may be mired in “fighting the old”.  Similarly, in mediations, I find myself repeatedly explaining to participants that change is part and parcel of litigation claims.  Former employees will not get their old jobs back from the employer they sued.  Family holidays just will be different after each family member sued the others in a business dissolution case.  Contractors and subcontractors will receive no more proposals for bids from a project manager after construction defect claims are asserted.  Litigation relief can provide much, but it usually cannot restore relationships.

Getting to acceptance of changed circumstances is necessary to reach resolution.  There exists no effort to build the new until parties let go of the past.  Focusing on this human dynamic of a client acknowledging and accepting the reality of change is not often a focus of lawyers, but it should be in order to manage client expectations.

“I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” – Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson hit upon the “why” we make resolutions — hope.  We strive to leave behind the undesired elements as we crave something better.  Resolutions can foster new beginnings.

In mediations, when parties are entrenched in legal or monetary positions, they begin to lose sight of the benefits of bringing finality to disputes as well their own opportunities for new beginnings.  They risk dashing their very own hopes.  I find that litigants actually respond well once they can see new opportunities in their future.  Sometimes these opportunities just need to be stated rather plainly for them.  At that point, concepts of further compromise and altered positions may more easily be broached.

As for the top resolution on the list — resolving to lose weight — you can take solace in the words of Phil McGraw: “A year from now, you’re gonna weigh more or less than you do right now.”  Good luck with your resolutions.  And, if you do not succeed, may your troubles last no longer than your resolutions.

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