It’s an easy mistake to make.
I see it all the time, to be honest.
One day recently, I had to say this to a nice young woman who came to me for employment law advice:
“I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I think you are wasting your time with this”.
And to a man a few days before: “I have to tell you that I think you are in danger of digging a big hole for yourself. My advice is that you forget about this and go back to work, keep the head down, and do your best.”
And another: “You asked me for a straight answer and that is what I am about to give you: forget about this. Accept it, and move on, or you are in danger of talking yourself out of a job”.
And “Sometimes, you may be treated unfairly or unprofessionally, but that doesn’t mean there is a legal cause of action or claim”.
It appeared to me that there was a growing number of people who, one way or another, left my office disappointed.
It’s inevitable that you begin to second guess yourself.
I began to question myself.
Was my judgment off: was I too conservative?
Was I overlooking potential causes of action?
Was I expecting too much from employees?
And too little from employers?
But when I thought about it I noticed it was not just in relation to employment law that I’ve had to say these things, either. Family, litigation, personal injury, property, landlord and tenant.
And then I read the Supreme Court decision in the alleged bullying case involving a special needs assistant, Una Ruffley, and the Board of management of the primary school in Kildare where she worked.
And one of the Judges seemed to articulate precisely what I had been saying to the various hopeful employees who came to me.
Mr. Justice Peter Charleton, in his decision, said “Not every wrong, even one which results from unfair or unfortunate circumstances, gives rise to a cause of action.”
Another way of saying this, in plain English, is “shit happens”.
And that is what I was saying to the different people I have referred to above.
I was doing is as diplomatically as I could, but I had to call a spade a spade.
It’s human nature that nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news. And nobody wants to let down or disappoint prospective clients.
But I would be doing them a grave disservice if I did not give my honest opinion about whether each person had a claim, a “cause of action”, or not.
Some people take the bad news well, some take it badly.
But one unfortunate feature that I encounter on a too frequent basis is the person who appears to have become obsessive about their issue, no matter what it is.
They simply won’t let it go, even when staring at the uncomfortable facts.
The big problem in this situation is that the biggest sufferer of an unhealthy obsession is the person who has it.
Because it can lead to their well being and mental health being seriously affected.
Not only have they suffered some distress or hardship or rough treatment at the hands of another, but now they run the risk of compounding the damage and hurt by their refusal to put it behind them and let it go.
It is striking, and sad, how some situations become so personal to the individual that they simply cannot see the damage they will do to themselves if they don’t let it go.
In conclusion, sometimes you need to stand up and fight.
But sometimes you need to retreat and live to fight another day, when the odds in your favour shift to make it worthwhile.
And don’t ever fall into the trap of winning a battle, and losing the war.