Lawsuits tend to end when everyone has had enough pain, like most of our conflicts. The beginning of a lawsuit is not so different from other conflicts in our lives—we are sure we are right, and if the other person will just be reasonable they will come around to our way of thinking. When it turns out that their reason does not match our own, the stages we go through are not so different from the stages Elisabeth Kubler-Ross addresses in her seminal book, On Death and Dying. If any conflict is going to end, something must die or be transformed, whether it is a point of view, a relationship, or a jury verdict.
Kubler-Ross identifies five stages that a dying person goes through , not necessarily in a linear progression:
When some conflict happens in a relationship with a friend or a stranger, think about your response. Isn’t the first thought denial, “Surely they have misunderstood, or they would agree with me.”
Then we naturally go to anger, “How could they be so unreasonable that they are persisting in this foolish argument?”
Then we bargain, either in our own head or whether to with them. “OK, you think you disagree, but let me explain to you (in a very nice way at first) where you are mistaken.”
Then we feel sad, depressed or hopeless, “This is not going to end, so do I want to fight or give up and move on?”
Finally, if we are fortunate, we move to acceptance, “This is my reality, now what do I want to do with it?”
These can all happen very quickly, almost simultaneously, or over time. We may think we are in acceptance phase only to be tweaked in a way that our anger is reawakened or we get depressed.
None of these are stages to be ashamed of, but they are stages to be aware of. Only with a certain amount of self-awareness can we face any conflict, legal or not, with any sustained ability to engage it well. All five stages are worth considering personally, before we even begin to think about using the justice system which will prolong and aggravate all five stages and will promise no particular resolution.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, On Death and Dying (Scribner 1969) p. 9.