What do we mean by “all things considered?”
The weather, we say, is good, “all things considered;” a new car, we say, isn’t a bad car, “all things considered;” a dinner, a movie, a vacation, a job, a new house, a day of the week, a month of the year, a year, a decade, an enemy, a friend, a family member, a city, a town, an old pair of shoes, all can be described with the words: “all things considered.”
But do we mean it? Yes and no.
We do not mean “all things considered” when we say “all things considered.” We mean the opposite. When we say: nice day, week, husband, wife, daughter, son, pair of shoes, “all things considered,” we mean in spite of: the weather, their criminal conviction(s), their tendency to lie, to tell the truth, to sell drugs, to buy shoes, or to hurt our feet. We mean to say all things not considered, and we mean to say we have considered those other things, too.
“All things considered” is a simple acknowledgment of the fact that life is not simple, that true perfection in life is so rare as to be nonexistent, that things might be better or worse for others, maybe most others, that things might be better for us, maybe a lot better, maybe a lot worse, but, given all of these irrefutable facts of which we acknowledge the absolute truth, we are accepting, no, pleased, no, thrilled, no, overjoyed with the current state of our life, the weather, this day, this pair of shoes, or whatever – all things considered – and are looking forward to what tomorrow may bring.
Unless tomorrow brings a presidential election, an armed conflict overseas (whether or not we are a participant), a lawsuit (in which we are a named party), a mediation conference (in which we may be required to acknowledge, as we already do in every other aspect of our lives, that certain facts take precedence over certain other facts), or any other circumstance in which we choose to pretend that all facts are created equal and, frankly, must all be considered.
All things considered, then, is a comfortable lie, a euphemism, that enables us to live our daily lives. How often have we heard or said words to the effect that: “if you think about it too long or too hard, consider all of the options, evaluate all of the consequences, then you will never get married, divorced, have children, go to college, drop out of college, get a new job, buy a new car, get a haircut or anything else?” Many times. But, guess what, we do get a haircut, have children, change jobs, and basically live our lives because we understand that we cannot consider all things and accomplish anything.
Until we go to mediation. Then we make believe, or pretend to believe, or actually believe, that everything matters, and if not everything, then only those things that matter to the other party, or parties, do not matter to us, and vice versa. In mediation we forget the lie of “all things considered” that so well lubricated our lives before mediation and, hopefully, will again after mediation. In mediation we require not only that all facts be considered, but that all facts be demonstrated if not beyond any doubt, then beyond any reasonable doubt, and if any such fact can be so demonstrated to be true then, and only then, can such a fact be relegated to the pile of facts not relevant to the resolution of the matter in dispute.
Unless we are the mediator. If we are the mediator, then we are charged with achieving a settlement of the matter in dispute in the minds of the disputing parties on terms acceptable to the parties, all things considered. And we mean all things considered in the usual sense, not the literal sense, because we know by experience the truth of the statement that nothing can be settled if all things are considered.
All things considered, then, to the mediator means discovering from the parties through questioning, through listening, through divine guidance, or through any appropriate means necessary what things in fact and in truth matter to each of the parties. Once the parties’ truth is discovered, if it is discovered, then the mediator knows what things may be useful to any settlement and can attempt to help the parties find common ground on those things.
It can be and has been argued that a problem with mediation is that the parties’ truth is not the actual truth, that there is a problem with “deception” in mediation, that the problem is the parties are trying to fool the mediator, and the mediator is trying to fool the parties and the lawyers are trying to fool everybody, and there is, well, something just not right about all of that tomfoolery. Whatever happened to “the whole truth and nothing but the truth?”
Whatever happened is that “the whole truth and nothing but the truth” doesn’t fit mediation. It fits litigation (kind of), but it requires an entire Code of Evidence and an entire Code of Civil Procedure and volumes of Rules of Court to make it fit, and it is very expensive and subject to appeal and takes a very, very, very long time. What happed is the realization that “all things considered” does not always mean “all things considered.” It sometimes means that some facts take precedence over others, and that some facts do not matter at all, today, at this time, in this context, to this settlement.
Settlement is defined as an adjustment of doubts and differences. If the mediator is unable to successfully discover from the parties those things, out of all things, to be considered relevant today, to this settlement, then the settlement track will be circular, and perpetual, and there will be no adjustment of doubts and differences, and the mediation will fail.
The parties will then be left with “the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” as an alternative, as an option. Maybe, all things considered, it is a better option. Maybe, all things considered, it is the only option. If the search for the whole truth and nothing but the truth is your quest, perhaps you should seek it through litigation in the first instance, because that is not the goal of mediation. Mediation is a quest for settlement, for an adjustment of the doubts and differences existing between parties, today, in this case, in a manner acceptable to all of the parties, nothing more, and nothing less, all things considered.
Barbara McAdoo describes her concern with lawyers waiting for mediators or others to be able to relate bad news or other news to their clients.By Barbara McAdoo