Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

Read The Latest Post

Monday night (10/19/09). It’s the bottom of the ninth inning. The Dodgers are hanging on to a 4-3 lead in the crucial fourth game, in which the Dodgers have the chance to tie up the National League Championship series. Two outs, one strike, and seemingly moments away from victory, just waiting for Jonathan Broxton to put the final batter away. Instead, Jimmy Rollins hits a double, scoring both runners already on base, and the Phillies stunningly take the game, and almost inevitably, the Dodgers’ World Series hopes.

But was it really Jimmy Rollins who won the game for Philadelphia? In Bill Plaschke’s column yesterday in the Los Angeles Times, Plaschke argues that the decisive moment was Broxton’s walk given to Matt Stairs, which put the tying run on base (the winning run followed when Broxton hit Carlos Ruiz with the ball). Matt Stairs is the same pinch hitter who hit a two run homer in last year’s fourth game of the NLCS between the Dodgers and the Phillies, crushing the Dodgers’ hopes last year.

Broxton, the closer responsible for allowing Stairs’s home run last year, must have been haunted by last year’s defeat. He may not have been expecting, however, that he was going to get the chance to face the same batter, for the same team, in the same game, of the same series, playing for the same stakes. Getting this rare second chance at redemption, Broxton could not, or would not, throw Matt Stairs a strike. Instead of looking for revenge, he seemed to be simply looking to avoid the same fate he suffered last year. So he threw Stairs four pitches that were not even close to the strike zone, and thereby walked himself right into the same result the Dodgers got last season. As Karl Marx said: History repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

Lawsuits, like baseball, offer the litigants an opportunity to face adversaries they have faced before. They also allow people to continue to re-live the past. For some, a lawsuit presents an opportunity to obtain recompense or revenge for a past injustice. The parties re-tell the story of their past relationship, and at least one side hopes to be judged differently than the outcome of the real event. For others, a lawsuit presents an opportunity to re-create exactly the same pathological dynamics that doomed the parties’ past relationship. I have seen numerous cases in which the parties’ battles over discovery or legal issues arising in the case uncannily mirrored the events of their past dealings in real life. Other litigants, just like Jonathan Broxton, simply want to avoid the awful fate that brought them to the courthouse. Instead of avoiding it, however, they frequently cannot escape it happening to them a second time.

Mediation challenges the participants to break out of the vicious cycle of their previous relationship. Mediation can offer the cathartic experience of re-living the past, just as telling one’s story in court can do, but it also offers the opportunity to explore strategies for breaking the patterns that caused parties to suffer at each others’ hands. Sometimes it is useful to remind people that if they cannot settle their dispute, they are likely to proceed with a farcical re-creation of their prior disastrous relationship. Other times it is possible to get people to see each other in a new light, to understand the other side’s point of view a little better, or to handle the problem in a different way, so that they do not repeat those prior mistakes.

One wonders if Jonathan Broxton received the counseling he probably needed before facing Matt Stairs in a similar situation for the second time. Had he been better prepared, perhaps he could have faced his opponent, and his own demons, in a more convincing manner.