Within the last week, I have read two different articles about the “truth.” The first, a blog posted on Kluwer Mediation Blog on February 8, 2018 entitled, “The Map is not the territory” by Charlie Woods highlights the notion that each of us has a different perception when looking at the identical thing. In this case, a map. We each will look at the map and believe that it is telling us the “truth”, when there can be several different kinds of maps depicting the same area.  Each map may be “accurate” given the context in which it is drawn and our own life experiences that we bring to our view of the map. In short, as Mr. Woods explains:

Things are often not what they at first seem and we frequently see or hear or sense things differently, depending on where and in what circumstances we find ourselves in. If I remember clearly (a big assumption – see below), an early experiment in mental mapping asked students in London and Edinburgh to map where Leeds was. Those in Edinburgh put it closer to London and those in London put it closer to Edinburgh – it is around halfway. (Id.)

As if this was not enough, I then picked up the Winter 2018 issue of Dispute Resolution Magazine in which “Facts -Do Facts Matter” is the theme. Again, in one of the articles entitled, “A Conversation About Facts, Stories and Truth in Mediation,” James Coben, Kenneth Fox and Lela P. Love discuss the importance and/or relevance of facts to resolving matters during mediation.  Professor Love notes that “… the past informs the future.” (Id. at 14.) That is, while the “facts” are important in setting the stage, they should not be an end unto themselves. “.… Facts, however, may not serve truth-seeking if they are an end in themselves.” (Id. at 14-15.)

Each author notes that there is no one set of facts. Each party has her own perspective on the matter and thus her own set of “truths” or “facts.”  And as each author notes while it is important to allow each party to tell her own story and thus share her own perspective with the other party, these “truths” should not be the deciding factor. Each party should share her perspective as a means of shifting the listener to consider more than just her own perspective; to “move the ball” forward so to speak.  Storytelling should be viewed as a means of understanding how each party’s different social experience of the same event led each to a different conclusion. In turn, this should allow each party to recalibrate her thinking and look for constructive ways to resolve the dispute. (Id. at 14-18. )

In short, there is no one “truth”. We all have our own perception of “reality” based on our own individual experience of what transpired. But, the trick is to weave those different narratives into a single one that each party can live with to move forward to reach a compromise.

I dwell on this topic once again because I had two mediations recently in which the parties got hung up on their respective clients’ version of the “facts”. Even though I tried to explain that there may be more than one explanation for the event in question, each party would have none of it.  Because a different version of the same events was coming from the other side, the party would not listen to the alternative “truths” or “facts”. (Reactive  devaluation: we devalue the source simply because it comes from an adversary!)

The matters did not settle. Neither side was willing to accept that the other’s  version “of the map” although different, may be just as accurate.

The moral: just because your truth is not my truth, does not mean you are wrong and I am right nor that I am wrong and you are right. We are “each” right in our own perception of reality; rather than getting hung up on which set of facts equal the truth, our goal should be to mesh our realities into a compromised narrative with which we can each live… And move forward!

….Just something to think about.

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By Phyllis G. Pollack

Phyllis G. Pollack is a full time neutral in Los Angeles where, as President of PGP Mediation, she focuses on business, real estate, contract and “lemon law” disputes. She may be reached at Phone: 213-630-8810 / phyllis@pgpmediation.com / Website: www.pgpmediation.com