Why Do We Get So Hung Up on The Facts?

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 |2018-02-13T14:11:18+00:00February 23rd, 2018|News articles|0 Comments

About the Author:

Phyllis Pollack
Phyllis G. Pollack, Esq. the principal of PGP Mediation (www.pgpmediation.com), has been a mediator in Los Angeles, California since 2000. She has conducted over 1700 mediations. As an attorney with more than 35 years experience, she utilizes her diverse background to resolve business, commercial, international trade, real estate, employment and lemon law disputes at both the state and federal trial and state appellate court levels. Currently, she is the in­coming chair of State Bar of California’s ADR Committee. She has served on the board of the California Dispute Resolution Council (CDRC) (2012­2013), is a past president and past treasurer of the SCMA Education Foundation (2011­2013) and a past president (2010) of the Southern California Mediation Association (SCMA). Ms. Pollack received her BA degree in sociology in 1973 from Newcomb College of Tulane University and her JD degree from Tulane University School of Law in 1977. She is an active member of both the Louisiana and California bars. Pollack believes that it is never too late to mediate a dispute and recommends mediation over litigation as it allows the parties to decide their own solutions.