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“Sometimes the only winning move is not to play.”

February 14, 2013

Some mediators say that small monetary disputes are the hardest to settle.  I think there is some truth in the statement.

Because the numbers are not great – I’m talking about cases where the amount in controversy may be $20,000 or less, for example – sometimes there’s not much room for either side to maneuver.

One would think that, in this range, because the cost of pursuing or defending the claim may equal or exceed the amount in controversy, it would be easy for people to see that they are in a no-win situation.  Not so.

In today’s economy, with money being such a scarce commodity, everyone is focused on the last dollar, and it’s hard to give it up.

Further, people do want “justice” and there is an inherent stubbornness when they perceive that they have been wronged … or have been unfairly accused of doing wrong.

And there is pride, and sometimes a cultural perception of weakness or losing face if one compromises, which gets in the way.

Before beginning to write this piece, I looked up a definition of stubbornness on the internet.  I found this:

“a steadfast adherence to an opinion, purpose, or course of action in spite of reason, arguments, or persuasion” See,

Such stubbornness can lead to self-harm when people fail to realize, or ignore the fact, that they might spend $20,000 to get $20,000, when instead they might make the choice to compromise and settle.

But I see people so unshakably focused these days on their positions – “I know I’ll win [despite the costs]” – that they won’t see that it’s in their best interests to resolve the dispute, even if they have to pay something, or give up a chunk of change, to make the dispute go away.

It is the disputant’s privilege to be stubborn if that is their choice, and not for the mediator to criticize them for it.

Yet in these situations, I do think of the 1983 movie, WarGames, with Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy.

This is the film, although dated, where Broderick’s character hacks into a national defense computer named WOPR and starts a computer simulation of a nuclear strike.

The computer also “learns,” and at the end of the film, by “teaching” the computer to play tic-tac-toe, Broderick’s character shows the computer the futility of nuclear warfare.

The best line is at the end of the movie where the computer’s “voice” is heard to say, “the only winning move is not to play.”

Sometimes I wish that viewing the film were a prerequisite for participating in mediation.  It teaches such a great lesson:

Sometimes, in small cases, the only winning move is not to pursue the litigation or try the case.


From → Mediation

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