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So What Does Identity Theft Have to do with Dispute Resolution?

Dispute Settlement Counsel by Michael Zeytoonian.

Early on in the movie, Field of Dreams, Ray Kinsella’s wife Annie asks him a key question as she tries to understand why her husband got sidetracked on their favorite writer, Terrence Mann, when his mission is to figure out why a voice told him to build a baseball field.

“What does Terrence Mann have to do with baseball?” It takes a while for Ray to figure that out. In the process, he has to rediscover a part of him that he lost, many years ago.

So what about identity theft? Why are we writing about it in a blog about alternative ways of resolving disputes?

Let’s start with looking at identity theft differently. I couldn’t help but notice how Stephen Covey talked about identity theft in his recent book, The Third Alternative. He defined identify theft as when one gets “swallowed up in other people’s definitions of you”, so much so that “you lose the sense of who you are and what you could do in life.” Covey points out that it happens all the time, when people don’t distinguish between their own minds and the mind of the culture that consumes them. We follow the crowd, even when we know in our truest self that is not the way we are and not the way we want to go.When it comes to resolving disputes, most people are also the victims of this same kind of identity theft. The choice of what to do about the dispute we are in is often being made by the mind of our litigious culture. I mentioned using Collaborative Law and mediation to a close lawyer friend of mine a few weeks ago and he quickly responded: “Why would you use those approaches; they’re un-American.” People lament all the time that our American society is far too litigious. They have choice words and plenty of derogatory jokes about lawyers. Yet when it is our turn to handle our dispute, we cave in to the mindset of that litigious culture, rather than try an approach that is more consistent with who we really are, or who we were, before we lost ourselves to the fight.

This subtle identity theft influences how we handle ourselves and how we view the other side in a legal dispute. We default into warrior role, even though it is not us. And before we have even heard the other side say anything, we have already made adverse assumptions about them and their attorney. Society’s litigious trait has knocked you off your moorings and replaced the other side’s true identity with the assumed one that your culture – using you – gave him or her. This isn’t about you and the other side anymore; it’s about the identity thieves that have taken your places. You have no choice now, you have to fight; you have to take no prisoners, you have to go scorched earth and anything that comes from the other side must be wrong, must be marginalized and must be defeated.

We see it in American politics today and it’s embarrassing and disgusting. If you are a Republican, anything the President says must be wrong and you must go against it, even when you agree with it or you know that it has some merit. If you are a Democrat, you start painting your Republican counterparts as the enemy of the people, even when some of their positions make sense to you.

The real you has been kidnapped. The empty head partisan politician or the zero sum game warrior impostor has taken you over.

So all the options that you know in your logical mind you should consider because they make sense to you, because they are a better fit for your circumstances, you must now write off. You can’t go there because you are gone. Someone else who fits the litigious cultural norms of your time has taken your place. And your chance for a resolution that satisfies your needs, a good outcome, has just left the building, along with the real you.


Michael A. Zeytoonian

Michael A. Zeytoonian is the Founding Member and Director of Dispute Resolution Counsel, LLC and is a lawyer, mediator and ombudsman. He is formerly a partner and now Of Counsel at Hutchings, Barsamian, Mandelcorn & Zeytoonian, LLP, in Wellesley Hills, MA. He specializes in employment law, business law, special education… MORE >

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