No one wants to be those people. You know, those people that everyone talks about - as in “did you hear about those people who are going through the horrible divorce/had the police at their house/hired the shark attorneys/can’t stop fighting about their kids/can’t be at their kid’s events together/fight in public” – you know, those people. But what if, despite your best intentions, you are? What if you could set your intentions differently?
My first job in the legal field was as a paralegal for a family law attorney. Fresh out school, with the ink barely dry on my paralegal degree, I helped her with a very contentious divorce that eventually settled via a hybrid mediation/negotiated settlement. But not before these people were those people who fought over EVERYTHING, and I do mean everything. And for these those people it was the stuff that they got hung up on. In my world the technical name for stuff is personal property – but it is still just your stuff. And, for the most part, unless it is priceless antiques and collectibles it has yard sale value in the eyes of the law. But these those people squabbled over everyday dishes and matching lighthouse throw pillows and blankets as if they were priceless antiques (never mind the fact that they could have replaced these items three times over with the amount of money they were paying their attorneys!). Looking back now, I think this occurred because these those people had not thought about what was truly important to them - they had set no priorities - and as a result everything was equally important to them. They had set no intentions for their future and they were not willing to let go of anything. It became a death match.
But my favorite by far was what they finally decided to do with the Christmas ornaments. Neither one of these those people trusted the other to divide the Christmas ornament collection evenly (or do anything for that matter) so they agreed to do it under the supervision of a designated representative. Lucky me! So after we left court on the day of their divorce hearing they lugged three large boxes of Christmas ornaments into our conference room, they tossed a coin to see who would go first and proceeded to spend HOURS taking turns choosing ornaments under my watchful eye. But as I watched them take turns choosing their ornaments a magical and curious thing happened – they stopped being those people! After 18 months of squawking and squabbling about every little thing, they were suddenly able to connect once again as parents and with their history as they reminisced over the ornaments their children made and the places they traveled when collecting ornaments. For those few hours they ceased being those people and connected with the people they had once been. Maybe it was the relief of finally having the divorce behind them, or maybe the ornaments evoked a particular response, but the animosity melted away and there was real cooperation, sharing and recognition of each other’s wishes. It was quite a sight!
In mediation we focus on goal setting for the future and specifically talk about everyone’s route to get there. Many of my clients have entered the mediation process specifically because they have decided NOT to be those people. What intentions would you set for your future if you didn’t have to be those people?