Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tell It To The Judge?

One major obstacle to mediation is the concern that self-tailored resolutions won’t be “legally binding,” coupled with the usually unfounded fear that the other person will ignore or violate the resulting non-judicial agreement.

To these worriers, I offer the paradoxical fact that people are more likely to honor and abide by decisions of their own making than by those imposed upon them by an authority figure like a judge.

The other common obstacle in getting people to mediate is that they both desperately want to "tell it to the judge," a holdover from the childhood threat of "telling Mom" or "telling the teacher," the difference being that the judge really doesn't care about you!

Judges are busy, and besides, they've heard it all before. Your sob story may be terribly compelling to you, but it's old news to them, and they've got plenty more stories where yours came from -- there aren't enough ears in the entire judicial system to hear even a fraction of them.

Still, fueled by the popularity of courtroom "reality shows," disputants fantasize that a stern authority figure will sympathize with their suffering and wag a scolding finger at their nemesis -- which is as unlikely a scenario as you're likely to see in a real-life courthouse. As far as judges are concerned, you're both wrong for wasting their precious time -- and their job is to somehow sort out and throw a bone to whoever's less wrong, and get rid of both of you as quickly as possible.

Besides, the judge doesn’t know you, doesn’t share your depth of passion in your situation, doesn’t have the time or inclination to explore avenues of resolution. His primary goal is not “justice,” but rather to clear the cumbersome docket, quickly and efficiently, with what usually amounts to snap judgments, with predictably unsatisfying outcomes.

As a homework exercise, I send doubters to the courthouse and instruct them to wait in the corridor outside any courtroom and ask the emerging parties, “Who won?” … and count how few people raise their hand.

Bottom line: if you really want to be heard, if you really want your thoughts and opinions and feelings to matter, if you want to shape your destiny and not put it in the hands of an uncaring stranger, then do yourself a favor and see a mediator, not a judge.

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