Conflict Resolution|United States

New Holiday Proposed

Thanksgiving is one of the most popular holidays of the year for Americans.  It is also culturally becoming.  We are encouraged to pause and reflect on what we have received, especially from those no longer at the table. 

(There are, as always, other ways to look at it — Ayn Rand famously called it a typical American holiday because it celebrated not Pilgrims, but successful production, in a selfish and therefore commendable feast of conspicuous overconsumption.)

Might we consider an accompanying holiday — one where, instead of thinking of what we have received, we think of what we might get rid of?  In particular, our resentments, our grudges, our get-back-ats, and our expensive, time-consuming claims against one another?  Rather than Thanksgiving Day, what about Forgiving Day?

(No, this isn’t religious — it’s commercially rational.  Read on!)

Karl Slaikeu, in his book When Push Comes to Shove, has articulated four attributes of resolved conflict: (1) apology or acknowledgement; (2) restitution; (3) setting a different relationship for the future; and (4) forgiveness.   Note that only the first three are in the control of the person seeking to make amends.  Forgiveness is in the sole discretion of the injured party.  And in my experience it seldom happens. 

 So before, during and after our disputes we walk about the earth, eat our meals, make our plans, address our Boards of Directors and go to our beds, all the time weighted down with perceived injuries and plans to vindicate ourselves and strategems to “get that guy.”  We spend substantial portions of wealth, our peace of mind, and our opportunities to be productive, on intricate and expensive systems of retribution.  For Americans, pursuing claims against others is our modus operandi, the specie of our age.

Might it not be healthy, on a yearly basis at least, just to drop this stuff and get on with our lives, free of the twin shackles of accusation and defense?

Other cultures have encouraged this practice for generations.  Since the 1400s Jews have practiced Tashlikh as part of Rosh Hashanna.  They yearly cast bread, as symbol of their own misdeeds, into flowing waters, and proceed into the new year unburdened by the harms they have caused each other.  They also confront their neighbors and colleagues during the holy days before Yom Kippur to ask pardon for any of their actions that have given offense.  As all in the tribe forgive themselves, so all are forgiven.  So the tribe flourishes.

One of the great Jews, Jesus Christ, maintained this teaching.  Not only did he encourage us each to deal with each other as we would like to be dealt with ourselves — one of his last utterances was to forgive.

Given our profoundly Judeo-Christian culture, one would think that we would instinctively decry multi-year, multi-party business-to-business litigation.  Yet it is a unique national phenomenon, as American as the Lions game on Thanksgiving.  

Litigation budgets are prepared, yes, but the true costs of corporate litigation are never regularly assessed by those who counsel their clients to engage in it.  The loss of productivity, the prevalence of emotional decision making, the direct transaction costs, the diversion of otherwise productive assets as reserves, the devotion of human intelligence and creativity to past rather than future activities of the corporation — all of these costs weigh down the enterprise.   Yet the practice continues.

Forgiveness Day might change all that.  It would be a day when business managers take stock of their litigation portfolio and get rid of as much of it as they possibly can, on the best terms they can — but they get rid of it.  They approach their adversaries and fix all the problems they can, and for the others they meet at the Mississippi and simultaneously cast their bread upon the waters.  Then they get back to business. 

This might get rid of a lot of disputes.  For the other stuff, maybe they can consider a truly radical step to create value for their shareholders: Maybe they can just let it go.

1 Comment
  1. I was struck not so much by the notion of forgiving and ridding ourselves of rancorous attributions (which I enthusiastically support), but by the statement that we’re all in a state of “before, during, or after” our next dispute. Conflict is simply inevitable. It’s part of our human condition. And what wonderful deal! I’m glad we have different perspectives, ideas, thoughts, and approaches. How boring a world if we all saw everything the same way. Accepting that we’re all in a never-ending cycle of “before, during, or after” makes it easier to deal with differences and disagreements as simple, natural consequences of of our human condition. So why not learn to be more adept at handling conflict effectively so we can get the best out of it?

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