Sunday, January 1, 2012

Welcome 2012: Out With the Old, In With the New!

Attorney and Mediator Victoria Pynchon tells a story of a student who went to study with a guru.

The Master invited the student to have tea.  He filled the student's cup.


Then, a bit later, the Master refilled the same cup.   As he did so, the cup overflowed.

The student exclaimed, "Why did you overflow my cup?"

The Master replied, "To make room for the new, one must first get rid of the old."

As we enter 2012, what old ideas, preconceived notions, habits, and practices must we get rid of, to make way for the new? Have we even consciously thought about what we would like to take the place of the old status quo? What would we prefer to be the new state of being?

New Year's resolutions have a way of being short lived. Short lived, that is, if they are just poured on top of an old cup. To nurture our newest hopes, dreams, and habits, we must first make room for them.

In his book The Power of a Positive No, William Ury frames the issue in terms of a tree.  The roots of the tree are our deepest values, that we tap into to determine our goals and objectives.  The trunk of the tree consists of the major decisions we must make in order to focus on our goals.  One of the decisions we must make, is to “say no” to the things that don’t move us closer to our goal.  By saying “no” to some things, we pave the way to say “yes” to the right things for our lives.  We create a strong trunk that will support our efforts. 

Moving up from that foundation of what we’ve said “no” to, we reach the point where we can focus on what we say “yes” to.  The leaves of the tree are the fruit of our effort, so to speak.  The leaves are the results we see after we make the positive decision to say no to the un-important.   The power of the positive “no” is that it enables us to focus on the things we truly value.  While the book is designed as a text on negotiation, I found this analogy to apply much more broadly in helping me discern what to say “no” to in my life as well as in my negotiations. 


In my own life, the past few years have been devoted to developing a law and mediation practice that reflects my unique values.  I decided that I wanted to have a peacemaking practice, a practice that enabled people in relationships to address challenging conflict in ways that are healthy, cost effective, and help them stay out of contested litigation.   Part of my “learning curve” has been to discern what potential clients  to say “no” to. 

Because mediation costs approximately 10% the cost of litigation, I’ve had some potential clients come to me who were only interested in the “cost” aspect of mediation.  They had no interest in finding solutions that were fair to their negotiating partner.   I’ve learned to screen out and say “no” to “cheap” clients on the front end.   For one thing, their mediation is likely to fall apart whenever they realize that my practice does not cut corners on finding measures of fairness.   If a husband earns ten times his wife’s income and she is giving up all rights to alimony, that may be a reasonable decision but I will want to know why.  If the husband has just been seeking a cheap way to dump his wife, the mediation will fall apart right there.   Secondly, a person who is not committed to reasonableness and fairness is just not an enjoyable person to work with.  So, I’m better off without them! 

I’ve also turned away potential clients when it appeared they wanted to seek emotional retribution through an abusive court process.   My bright line rule is that I won’t take a case where the parties want to go to court as a first resort. 

Both decisions have cost clients, and that’s not always an easy decision to make when one is starting a fledgling practice!   

But it has been a good decision.  The decision to say “no” to clients who are not committed to fairness has freed me up to devote my best quality energies to the folk who do care about fairness and who are concerned with finding what is “right”.  

I find that my typical “perfect client” is the person who calls me and says, “I went to see a lawyer, and he told me what to do, and I just can’t do that to my spouse.”  This person – the person who remains concerned what happens to his spouse (or brother or sister, business partner, or fellow parishioner in his church) --  is the person my practice is there to help.   My mediation practice gives this person an option that is simply not available to them in the adversarial system.   If I had never discerned this – if I had failed to say “no” to the “cheap” clients -- then I could never have focused on the “fair” clients. 

And if I had failed to take that step, I would set myself up to be nothing but the “cheap” alternative in a world of cheapness. 

That was last year’s decision, for me.   Now, what will I choose to work on this year?  What will you choose to work on? 

This is a journey I hope we will share together in the coming year.  Please continue to share tea on my blog, and let’s see where the journey leads! 












Sarah's 22nd Birthday 008

Cha Dao!

The two Chinese characters on my little tea table stand for the word “tea” and the word “dao”. Cha means tea, and the word “dao” means to arrive. Thus, a literal translation would be, “tea time!”


However, there is more to the meaning than this!  My Daoist friends tell me that this character for “dao” is also the word used to connote seeking the correct path, as in “Dao” (or Tao as it is sometimes spelled in English) .   Let us be mindful in this upcoming year, and seek a right path for 2012! 


P.S.  If you’re interested in learning more about my law and mediation practice, please visit my web page at 



No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your comment!