When do we choose to let bygones be bygones? How do we decide when to let go and when to pursue?
I’m unhappy with one of the lawyers who handled my father’s estate. In deciding how to proceed, I was aided by conversations with several friends and an email exchange with one who is just as inclined as I am to fight the good fight when the occasion demands. Here are edited and adapted excerpts from that email exchange:
Me: Dad died four years ago on the 25th of May, and his estate has at long last been probated. Despite all the work I did to assist him, or perhaps because of it, one of the attorneys turned nasty and vindictive. I’ve been waiting for this moment to confront him. I’ve even written the letter. And yet, now that the moment is upon me, I hesitate. The result might well be unsatisfactory. And once you start something like this, you never know where it will go and how much time and effort it will take. It could be a long, unfulfilling journey.
Friend: My guiding principle tends to be the answer to the question: “Will it matter in a year’s time?” If yes, it’s a big issue. If not, I try to let it go. However, this is clinical. I can understand the merit of giving it time. That said, I hate that people feel both able and willing to treat others this way and my activist gene gets triggered.
Me: For me, that’s a novel consideration: Will it make a difference a year from now? It’s a good one and argues in favor of biding my time. I think, however, that the question in this case is whether explaining my objections directly to him or filing a complaint with officialdom will change his mind. Might words affect him? The jury in my head says no. And so right now, I’m leaning toward letting it go. I’ll observe my feelings over the weeks and maybe months to ensure my sense of an unredressed grievance isn’t festering.
Friend: I understand your reasoning for not taking on this person. I just hate injustice. However, life is for living as my nana used to say and sometimes, I forget that the cause shouldn’t outweigh joy. A difficult calculation.
Subscribers to this blog know I don’t back down when I feel important principles are involved. I’ve been pursuing my alma mater, Amherst College, for two years over its refusal to disclose the accommodations it provides to blind and visually impaired students. Some progress is being made, and I feel my time has been spent well. But as I compose this blog post on a mid-May morning, a red cardinal is chattering outside my window. That’s where I want to direct my focus: to the beautiful things in life, not on harm that can’t be undone.
Here’s a list of factors I considered as I debated whether to pursue my grievance with the lawyer:
1. Could a favorable outcome benefit more people than just me?
2. Is there a risk that a favorable solution for me could be less favorable for others? As every experienced politician, plumber and surgeon knows, fixing one problem can open the sluicegates to even worse ones.
3. How objectively convincing is my grievance?
4. How clear is the resolution I seek? Can it be measured in terms of money? Would an apology, if given in a meaningful way, suffice? Is there any other easily explainable action that would satisfy me?
5. Would complaining give me peace of mind, whether my complaint ended up being acted on favorably, ignored or disputed?
6. Is complaining now likely to make a difference to me or others a year from now?
7. What exactly is “justice”? Or, with so much injustice in the world, how great is this particular injustice?
8. Is there a cause to which I could devote my fighting time and energy that has a better chance of getting results?
9. Is my mental health better served by pursuing my complaint or by moving on?
10. Would I rather go for a walk with my wife than dedicate myself to going after this lawyer? Would I rather work on a story? Would I be happier following a soccer game or going to a concert?
These questions get easier and easier, and most militate in favor of inaction. But that’s the flip side of the dilemma: It can be easier to walk away from conflict than address a wrong that needs to be acknowledged or corrected.
In this case, there’s an eleventh factor. Now that the legal wrangling is over, my focus returns to memories of Dad. Sometimes there was a tenderness between us that happens only between a father and his child. It re-emerged in his last month or so as strongly as it had in my boyhood. Suffused with that tenderness, now that I’m released from the legal process, I’m free to reflect anew on him and on us.