Letting Go of Blame

“Of this I am certain, that if we open a quarrel between the past and the present, we shall find that we have lost the future.”

So said Winston Churchill in 1940, after the battle for France was lost, in what became known as his “Their Finest Hour” speech to the British Parliament.

According to Richard Langworth’s April 16, 2016 Churchill blog, the new British Prime Minister and leader of the country’s wartime coalition government, was warning his parliamentary colleagues that this was no time to be concerned with who they wished to blame for Britain’s predicament. “Recrimination” would be “utterly futile and even harmful”:

We cannot afford it… we have to think of the future and not of the past…. there are many who would hold an inquest in the House of Commons on the conduct of the governments… during the years which led up to this catastrophe. They seek to indict those who were responsible for the guidance of our affairs. 1This also would be a foolish and pernicious process.

Churchill’s words ring true in a mediation context. Of course, it is important for “conflict analysis” purposes to listen to disputants when they communicate the source or origin of their unhappiness, dissatisfaction or concern with the actions, omissions or stated intentions of others to the dispute. (1)

As well, one or more of the mediation participants may need to release some emotion before being able to focus on their interests. Hoffman and Wolman have described “letting the steam out of the kettle” as sometimes being “an essential step towards settlement”. (2)

But conflict analysis and/or letting off steam must not be allowed by the mediator to become unproductive.

Having listened to one or more kettles letting off steam, I will invariably ask during a caucus: “Now, going forward, what do you want to achieve?” Thus begins the process of what Christopher Moore has described as “generating options and problem-solving” (3) that may include letting go of blame (4) if settlement is to be achieved.

  1. Moore, The Mediation Process (4th ed. 2014) at pp. 106-168.
  2. David Hoffman and Richard Wolman, The Psychology of Mediation, Mediation: A Practice Guide for Mediators, Lawyers, and Other Professionals (Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education Inc., 2013) at p. 7-10.
  3. Moore, supra, at p. 387-412.
  4. Ibid at p. 424.