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Andy Griffith: TV Land Mediator

The Andy Griffith episode of “A Feud is a Feud” tells a folksy tale about the challenges a mediator faces and the techniques he uses to help parties resolve disputes. The episode opens with Andy walking down the second story steps of the house he shares with Aunt Bee. It is the middle of the night. Aunt Bee greets a young couple at her front door. They tell her that they want a quick marriage under the protection of darkness. Bee asks: “Are you absolutely, positively sure?” “Dead sure,” the young groom answers, foreshadowing the potential threat that lurks in the night.

The Opening Statements of the Parties

Andy turns to Bee, who is now seated at the piano and says: “Are you ready?” She begins the first notes of the Wedding March. He examines the marriage license and says: “Josh. Hannah. Please join hands. Dearly beloved….” Through the front door barges a shotgun toting Pa Carter. He is a stout man with overalls and a dirty felt hat. He points the double-barrel shotgun at the young Wakefield groom. He announces: “Hannah, if you just became this feller’s wife, you better take a good look at him because in about a second you’re going to be his widow.” Andy pauses. He attempts to reframe the last statement. “Do I understand that you don’t take too favorably to this young man as your son-in-law?” Pa Carter answers: “Do you know who this low down varmint is. He’s….?”

Then Pa Wakefield barges through the front door. He too carries a double barrel shotgun. He too wears overalls and a dirty felt hat, but he is taller. Thinner. With a full beard. He points the gun at Andy and says: “If you’ve said the words to hitch ‘um, you better find some words to un-hitch ‘um.” Andy pauses, then tries another reframe: “I’m getting the feeling this is not a very popular marriage. Now Mr. Carter. Mr. Wakefield. Carter! Wakefield! Great jumpin’ gosh Almighty. Now I don’t want no feudin’ in here!”

Pa Wakefield explains in an agitated voice: “Us Wakefields have been feudin” them Carters for 87 years.” He turns to Hannah: “Do you want to go messin’ it up now?” Hannah Carter stands square to the older men: “All I want is to get married and have a nice family!” Her father steps in: “You forgettin’ you’re a Carter. Our duty is not to bring Wakefields into the world; our duty is to send them out of this world!” Josh tries to salvage the situation: “Sheriff, we are both 18 years old and it is your duty to marry us if that’s what we want.”

Andy turns to the elder men: “The boy’s got a good point.” Both men train the barrels of their guns on Andy. He concedes: “You all got a better point.”

Going to the Balcony

Bill Ury, in Getting Past No: Negotiating Your Way from Confrontation to Cooperation (1993), defines “going to the balcony” as the time and space a party creates that allows him to distance himself from his natural impulses to strike back, give in or break off the negotiation. It also permits the party to gain control over his emotions. Ury suggests that you should “go to the balcony” to prepare for the negotiation and then go there as often as needed to control your response in difficult negotiations. It also gives you the opportunity to “keep your eye on the prize.” Mediators often create this space for themselves and for parties as a mediation proceeds.

In the TV episode, Andy finds his balcony at the kitchen table the next morning. Bee and Opie give him the silent treatment. He probes for the reason. Opie says: “Pa, you let them scare you.” Andy explains that when he was staring down the barrels of two guns, he considered what might happen if he did hitch the younguns. He begins telling Opie the story of Romeo and Juliet. He explains that it involved the story of a young boy and girl whose “daddies did not get along either.” He explains how Friar Lawrence hoped that the marriage would fix the feud, when instead it led to the deaths of the young lovers. Andy looks sideways to the kitchen ceiling and thinks out loud: “I believe I would do things differently. I think I’d end the feud first, then have the wedding. If Friar Lawrence knew what started the feud in the first place….” The scenes fades.

Private Caucuses: The Search for Underlying Interests and Needs

Bennett and Hermann explain in The Art of Mediation that caucuses are separate meetings between the mediator and each party that allow the mediator to use his or her “interactive analytical, probing and persuasive skills.” During a caucus, a mediator will ask for additional information not revealed in the opening statements of each party. The mediator may restate what he has heard to find the underlying meaning in the words said by that party. He will look for common interests and needs that may serve as the focus of a resolution to the dispute. Often the mediator moves the process forward simply using a series of questions designed to help each party analyze the case more objectively.

Andy held his first caucus with Pa Wakefield. The scene opens with his patrol car driving through a dusty yard filled with two goats, a dozen chickens and some ducks. On the clothesline a pair of long underwear dries in the sun. He walks to the wood frame house and finds Pa Wakefield on the porch, in a rocking chair, shooting his gun off into the woods. A beagle dog pants on a nearby table top just over Andy’s shoulder as Andy sits in an adjacent rocking chair. Andy asks: “You doin’ feudin’ shootin’ or huntin’ shootin’.” “Feudin” shootin’,” comes the quick reply. Andy squints into the woods. “I don’t see no Carters out there.” Pa Wakefield says in resignation: “I was afraid of that.”

Andy pulls his chair closer. Pa Wakefield apologizes for pointing a gun at him the night before. He explains in justification: “These younguns have no respect for their elders. You try to raise ‘em right….” Andy suggests: “Maybe your son doesn’t see the reason for the feud. Maybe the reason for the feud is not strong enough for him.” “No,” says Pa Wakefield, “that can’t be the problem.” “Why not,” asks Andy. “’Cause I never told him the reason.” Andy: “You didn’t! Why not?” Wakefield: “’Cause I don’t know the reason.” Andy: “You don’t! Why not?” Wakefield: “Because my daddy didn’t know the reason.” Andy: “Your Pa never told you?” Wakefield: “No, he didn’t need a reason.” Andy: “Who was the last person who knew the reason.” Wakefield: “Probably my granddaddy.” Andy: “So you mean to tell me you’ve been feuding for four generations without knowing why?” Wakefield: “Yep.” Andy shakes his head in disbelief and moves to caucus with the second party.

He finds Pa Carter up a holler cleaning his shotgun. Andy asks: “Why are you feudin’?” Carter: “’Cause he’s a Wakefield.” Andy, using a standard mediator method of probing, asks: “What’s that mean to you.” Carter: “Got to shoot at him.” Andy: “Why do you have to shoot at him?” Carter: “Cause he’s a Wakefield.” Andy: “Why do you have to shoot a Wakefield.” Carter: “Cause we’re feudin’.” Andy: “Why are you feudin’.” Carter: “Cause he’s a Wakefield.” Andy tries one more time: “Why are you feudin’ with the Wakefields.” Carter: “Cause we’re shootin’ at each other.” Andy: “Why are you shootin’ at each other.” Carter: “’Cause he’s a Wakefield.”

Mediators recognize this circular argument, based on fixed positions of the parties rather than either party’s true interests or needs. But Andy soon finds the young couple trying to get their needs met. He drives past them in his patrol car on his way back to town. They are walking hand in hand on the opposite side of the road, hoping to find a braver justice of the peace in the next town. He encourages them to wait until he finds a way to resolve the dispute. During the conversation he learns that neither a Wakefield “nary” a Carter has ever been killed or injured during the feud.

Reality Testing

Andy next summons Pa Wakefield and Pa Carter to a mountain ridge for what mediators call “reality testing.” Reality testing allows a party to see whether the position he holds is as strong as he may think. For instance, a mediator may test whether a plaintiff’s likelihood of winning a case is really 80 percent given a problem of evidence or the theory of the case.

Andy tests the positions of Pa Wakefield and Pa Carter by helping them examine the possible result of an earnest feud. Andy explains that he has checked all the public records and no Wakefield or Carter has ever been hurt during the feud. He explains that if word got out that the county has had an 87 year feud without one injury or death, its people will be the laughing stock of the state. He tells them that he has devised a plan that will accomplish in just a few minutes what the families have failed to do in 87 years.

He explains the French rules of dueling. The contestants will face back to back, take ten paces, turn and shoot. “Ten paces?” Pa Carter asks with a worried look on his face. Pa Wakefield adds with a slight wink towards Carter: “That sounds like quite a distance. A feller is likely to miss at that distance.” Andy quickly cuts off this escape: “That’s why I’m making it three paces.” While the men look away worried, Andy “checks” their guns for proper working order. At the same time, he surreptitiously takes out the ammunition so no one will get hurt. He returns the guns to the men and says: “Good luck and good bye. You will see each other in the great feudin” land beyond.” He starts to count: “One, two…” Neither contestant moves. Andy explains: “Now you fellers are suppose to walk when I start counting.” Carter says: “When a feller gets my age his legs get mighty heavy.” Wakefield nods vigorously in agreement. But Andy cuts off this escape, as well, with more reality testing: “It will be a short walk and the last time you’ll be using them.”

This charade continues with an argument over the proper rules — 10 paces or three. Andy explains that the seven step difference will not matter a bit, because the shotgun blast will propel the contestant backwards seven paces. The contestants next suggest that Andy count in French because dueling is a “Frenchy affair.” They are both quietly hoping he does not know French. Andy, however, learned a little French during the war. When he begins to count again – un, deux, trois — the contestants remain frozen back-to-back. It seems they do not understand French. Finally, the men again place their backs to each other, cornered by their pride and the possible loss of face. Andy begins to count again. Each man takes a step or two. Andy fires his gun in the air. The men, thinking the other man has gotten off a shot, run off in opposite directions.

Finding a Solution in a Shared Value

A skillful mediator never imposes a solution on the parties. In fact, he rarely suggests a solution. Instead, a mediator uses his process skills to guide the parties to an outcome that satisfies them both based on shared interests, needs and values. Andy helps Pa Carter and Pa Wakefield find a solution based on the shared value of courage.

The final scene finds Andy and the elder men back in Andy’s living room. He says in a hushed and confidential tone: “What if those younguns had seen you run off? Watching you couple of cowards may have changed their minds to marry.” Pa Carter interjects forcefully: “It’s better they don’t marry and produce a coward’s coward – like no coward the world has ever seen.”

Josh walks into the living room from the swinging door of the kitchen. He totes a shotgun that he hands to Pa Carter. He stands opposite his possible father-in-law and emphatically states that Carter may as well shoot him right then and there because that is the only thing that will keep Josh from marrying Hannah. Hannah steps into the room, pushes a shotgun into the hands of Pa Wakefield, and makes the same statement. Andy seizes the moment. He explains that he has not seen such courage in two younguns ever before. “Do you think if you mixed these two fine bloods, you buzzards would get a grandson who is a nat-u-ral born he-ro?” The elder men turn to each other. Relief and recognition cross their unshaved faces. They turn back towards Andy, point the guns at him for the second time in his own living room and say: “Stop blathering and get along with the marrying.”


Paula Young

Paula M. Young is an associate professor at the Appalachian School of Law located in Virginia teaching negotiation, certified civil mediation, arbitration, and dispute resolution system design.  She received in 2003 a LL.M. in Dispute Resolution from the top ranked program in the U.S.   She has over 1400 hours of… MORE >

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