Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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As anyone who has made it through my four part series of posts on Aeschylus already knows, I’ve spent a little time thinking about the evolution of our legal system from earliest times. One can trace the history of our system of justice from a cycle of revenge killings, to a divinely-inspired system of earthly justice, to the beginnings of a third stage, interest-based approach represented by the growth of alternative dispute resolution. An article in this month’s Atlantic magazine by Cullen Murphy, adapted from his new book on the Inquisition, makes some interesting points about the place of torture in this history, and our continuing connections to the methods developed during the Inquisition. Although we think of torture as […]

I used to think, back when I was a naive young law clerk, and even into my first few years of practice, that the legal system should provide a clear answer to most legal questions. If you were to read and research carefully any random motion, say for summary judgment, or listen to all the evidence and argument presented in any civil case, the vast majority of the time, the system should provide the same answer to each problem.  Especially for pure questions of law. If we’re not all getting the same answer, we probably just haven’t analyzed the problem carefully enough. I still think that predictability is an important ideal, but I no longer think the legal system will […]

In The Eumenides, Athena abolished the revenge cycle because that ancient justice system contained fundamental flaws that made it unsuitable for an enlightened democratic state.  Revenge does not achieve finality; it perpetuates violence; and it is mechanical and deterministic, thus denying free will.  In its place, Athena set up a new system that was supposed to be based on wisdom, truth, and rationality.  It continues to serve us well in many cases, but after more than 2000 years of our experiment with this more enlightened justice system, it might be time to ask whether it has finally has outlived its usefulness.  At the very least, we can probably all agree that our system of justice could stand some improvements. We […]

I posted something earlier this week on the power of negative thinking, on my political blog, inspired by a New York Times article describing how customers’ negative comments on the internet actually helped a business find new customers by boosting its search engine ranking.  That led me to think about how our instinct to attack, rather than to engage in dialogue with people who we believe have wronged us, can often be counter-productive.   In the case of the business described in the article, its dissatisfied customers would no doubt be frustrated to learn that the more they complained, the more they were helping the business succeed.  Indeed, the owner actually found these complaints so helpful that he was inspired to […]