The Right Thing To Do – A Tribute To The Greatest Generation

With so much end of year busyness, it sometimes takes effort to stop for a moment to remember what is important.  I was in the post office last week to send out some holiday presents when one of those moments occurred.[1]  An elderly man slowly walked up to the counter and placed a dime on the counter and stated [to the postal clerk]: “That’s what I owe you.”  The clerk replied: “That wasn’t necessary. You didn’t have to come all the way back.” The man said, “I owed it and I found it in my pocket after I left”. 

What is so striking about this moment and what does it have to do with my life – my practice of mediation and collaborative law?  Some already know.  This greatest generation, like my father, did things just because it was the right thing to do.  Most of the time this happened without any great forethought.  Here, it was only a dime.  Yet, that dime had so much significance.  This elderly, frail man made a special trip to that window on a very cold day because he owed something that he needed to repay.  There was apparently no question in his mind that he had to do it. Maybe it was his simple manner, maybe it was because of the hustle and bustle surrounding this man or a certain I don’t know what – the moment had meaning to the few that witnessed it.  It was not for them that he did it.  It was for himself and his own dignity.

There are moments in negotiations that are just as striking.  One person simply does the right thing.  These moments can change the course of the negotiation. It can be a simple gesture or an acknowledgement that the other person matters.  It can be a statement by one person recognizing the other person’s contribution to the partnership or the family.  These moments cannot necessarily be planned in advance.  They usually happen spontaneously when we stay present in the moment and do or say something just because it is the right thing to do.  We let ourselves do it.

cheers-1443534-258x300The greatest generation was known for values of personal responsibility, duty and honor.  These values play a meaningful part in the negotiations that I experience in my role as a neutral mediator and collaborative lawyer.

As this year comes to a close, I recognize that the greatest generation instilled very strong values in the generations to follow.  I see these values in my clients, my students and my family. Here’s to the greatest generation and the generations that follow.


Happy New Year!


[1] Yes, I still go to the post office in person from time to time.  I am not a member of the greatest generation as it is defined.

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