The early morning fog hung heavily upon the expanse, presaging the cannon exhaust that was soon to come. Fifes and drums echoed through the valley, coordinating the rhythms of myriad boots as they trod purposefully upon dirt and turf. Through the mist, two vast armies approached from opposite points of the compass, drawn into combat for reasons and pretenses real and imagined. Taking no cover and brooking no quarter, the warring entities exchanged interminable fusillades at point-blank range, inevitably and rapidly leaving thousands sprawled prostrate and dead on the once pristine field.
Mystifyingly, this foolhardy method typified warfare for millennia, save for certain and limited exceptions. Even after the American colonists defeated our imperial interlopers utilizing guerilla tactics gleaned from indigenous warriors, the blues and grays largely regressed to traditional, “gentlemanly,” and idiotic face-to-face skirmishes in the War of Northern Aggression (or other, less pejorative monikers, as you like). Apparently, there is odd comfort in looking a bullet in the eye as it screams spiraling toward your skull.
Though lacking gunpowder, dandyish wool overcoats, and barbaric medical techniques, modern litigation bears many of the hallmarks of these outmoded military conflicts. Besides requiring copious amounts of whiskey to survive the tribulations, combatants in both contexts engage in obviously destructive behavior, with low chances of survival, regardless of their knowledge of a more effective and less dangerous solution. Indeed, through inertia and lack of imagination, these disputants walk headlong into their doom, almost as if they cannot help it, as if it is typified and unavoidable human behavior.
A courtroom is set up in much the same way as a battlefield of yore; each parties’ positions set by convention across the aisle from each other, facing the arbiter. The gallery of spectators is present, motivated by grief or concern or mere schadenfreude. The rules of engagement are well-trodden and inflexible, arcane and occasionally nonsensical. Dress uniforms are mandatory and uninspiring, lest the fragile spirits of jurisprudence be angered by deviation from accepted codes. The outcomes are dependent as much on chance and accident as on skill and charisma; the most virtuous and clever litigant may still well be mortally wounded by the slings and arrows of legal machinations.
There are, as in war, other alternatives. Peace achieved through vigorous and principled diplomacy is perhaps the most desirable: resolution without blood/money-shed is a non-psychopathic means to the ultimate end. But, we are animals, so dispassionate and logical results are not always achievable, or even desirable, in the quest to quell disputes. Sometimes, confrontation is necessary to satisfy the baser impulses of those trapped in conflict. Yet these encounters need not be violent; politeness and effectiveness are not mutually exclusive.
Mediation gives the appearance of traditional, litigated solutions, but without the potential for destruction. Though one may have a proverbial rifle in hand, the abject lack of bullets quickly leads to the realization that such armament is inherently useless. Flexibility in attitude, in discourse, in dress, in manners of thinking, opens up creative outlets and lets more constructive inclinations flourish. The mediator, cloaked in the camouflage of the neutral, can engage in guerilla-type maneuvers, leveling proverbial pot shots at the weakened flanks of the folks in the mediator’s charge. These may sting, but they are flesh wounds at the worst and taken only in the best interests of all involved.
With minor scrapes and faint bruises, instead of severed limbs and mortal wounds, with patience and tact, rather than fury and insanity, the disputants leave the field with its flowers intact. Tomorrow, they will arise to live another day, rather than wallowing in the eternal hellfire of their own making.