I have often thought about the, "It was my fault" way to bring a claim or to defend a claim. If you are a reader of this blog, you know that I represent people who bring claims of employment discrimination. Just like most of us in life, most clients, and most defendants, do not want to admit any fault in the dilemma that occurred at work. Sometimes, my clients, won't made that they had made a mistake at work, or were tardy, or disobeyed a directive. My clients want to feel like they did nothing wrong, who doesn't? But, I know of no one in life who is perfect.
Likewise, the employer, or heaven-forbid a harasser, denies any racist, sexist, ageist conduct. They are never to blame. Either they did not make the racist comment, or it was a joke, or the plaintiff said things much worse. No one ever means it and the termination had nothing to do with my client's complaints.
I'm just thinking out loud now, but what would happen if everyone accepted responsibility for the part of the mess they created. My client might say, "I was late for work. It was hard for me to get my kids moving and I will make them get up earlier." The boss might say, "I know that joke was racist and I am embarrassed. I thought I wasn't a racist, but I need more work. Let's get training for me and others on this. I am so sorry." There can be a whole variety of scenarios, but I hope you catch my drift. I like people who own up to what they do. I feel good about myself when I admit mistakes, because making excuses is a lot easier.
Maybe if we all own up to our imperfections, our mistakes, our biases and bigotry, we could work our problems out at work and reduce lawsuits about unlawful discrimination. To take matters a step further, what if we spent an afternoon reversing roles with the opposing party, putting ourselves in their positions, understand how they may think, what may really be going on, not merely emphasizing, but figuratively living in their shoes. If we could lose our fear and insecurity and lose our inhibitions, and go imagine what is going on with the other side, what things would happen?
I think there is a reason I did not get a ticket, even though the wreck was my fault. I owned up to what I did. I have had only a few cases but some where the company essentially says, "Yup, we were wrong. We are fixing the harassment. No one should have to go through what she did." Those are the cases where I have had great satisfaction, although my clients ended up with much less money. Admitting wrongdoing with contrition eliminates the desire for juries to punish employers. In fact, if everyone would admit his or her part in whatever happened, I suspect we could get cases settled and people back to work. We might even begin to put a dent in unlawful discrimination, once everyone saw the other one as a human being like themselves.
We watched the "Railway Man" a movie about a British soldier in Burma who was tortured and water-boarded horribly during World War II. He was plagued by PTSD and lived a haunted life until he confronted one of the soldiers who had survived the war. The British soldier planned to kill the Japanese solder, but instead forgave his tormentor. The Japanese soldier was haunted by what he and the other had done to the captured and devoted his like to making amends. He admitted his sins to the British soldier and the British soldier forgave him.
There is such a profound and basic lesson in this story. Most of us want to forgive others. We want to be herd and understood. We want to be treated fairly, but justice is different from revenge. Revenge brings mo comfort.
I wonder what what happen if we had, instead of mediation, am honest and frank discussion of what really happened from everyone's perspective and we looked into our souls, and decided what part we played. Then we admit that part and ask for forgiveness. What would happen with that lime of thinking in litigation? I wonder.