This week, it is Doctor Seuss’s birthday.  Although I read his books religiously as a child, I was recently reminded of his genius after attending a presentation where the speaker highlighted various insights from the books of Doctor Seuss.  I found one book to be particularly relevant to the field of ADR. 

I’d like to share an important lesson that Doctor Seuss highlights in his book “On Beyond Zebra.”  The book begins with a young man learning the alphabet who proudly boasts about knowing all of the letters.  He says, “I know them all well…I know everything anyone knows. From beginning to end. From the start to the close. Because Z is as far as the alphabet goes.”

His wise friend replies, “You can stop, if you want, with the Z. Because most people stop with the Z…but not me. I’m telling you this cause you’re one of my friends, My alphabet starts where your alphabet ends.” He continues, “My alphabet starts with this letter called Yuzz. It’s the letter I use to spell Yuzz-a-ma-Tuzz. You’ll be sort of surprised what there is to be found, once you go beyond Z and start poking around.”

Upon reflection, many of the Seuss books have deep and profound messages.  This book in particular, evidenced from the passage above, highlights the importance of questioning the bounds of society, testing the limits, and being curious.  Only by “poking around” can you begin to uncover hidden factors and underlying interests. 

People generally—but especially those in a dispute—are close-minded to new ideas and new world-views.  Humans have a tendency to unconsciously generalize, delete, and distort information.  Therefore, the dispute resolution professional must help the parties dissect the dispute, breaking-down the problem into various puzzle pieces.1   In particular, humans are wired to ignore details and information that does not help our “side of the story.” 2   The parties need to open their minds to the possibility that there is more to the story than meets the eye.  Dispute resolution practitioners must help the parties unpack the dispute and “go beyond Z” to uncover the true nature of the dispute.

As much as parties need to “go beyond Z” to understand the dispute, it is equally important for parties to “go beyond Z” to find a solution to the problem.  Being creative and using out-of-the box thinking is essential to effectively resolving disputes.  I think Doctor Seuss was a perfect example of out-of-the-box thinking.3   As we celebrate his birthday, let’s remember to “go beyond Z” to better understand, then solve disputes!

1 Jeffrey Krivis & Mariam Zadeh, The Missing Link—Enhancing Mediation Success Using Neuro-Linguistic Programming,  
2 Id. “Deletion is the process of selectively paying attention to certain dimensions of experience while excluding others.”  Id.  This technique allows people to filter out what they believe is important and ignore the rest.  Id.
3 He wrote his children’s books with adults in mind, believing that children have the capacity to learn as adults.  He desperately wanted children to read and have interesting reading material!  He developed his books with important lessons in mind but was able to present them effectively and in a way that kept children interested.
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Mikita is the Editor-in-Chief of ADR Times. She is also an attorney at Seastrom Seastrom & Tuttle focusing solely on Family Law . Before that, she worked predominantly in litigation and arbitration in the field of construction and business litigation insurance defense. She received her Juris Doctorate at Pepperdine and a Masters in Dispute Resolution from the Straus Institute. Mikita has been published in the Pepperdine Dispute Resolution Law Journal and worked at the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution in London. As an avid traveler, she continues to explore various dispute resolution issues and how they vary from region to region.