As a kid I loved the whole Chronicles of Narnia series, it took getting older to truly understand the meaning of these wonderful books.  I have kept a couple of C.S. Lewis books in my nightstand for years and was recently thumbing through The Screwtape  when I stumbled on this jewel:  “Men are not angered by mere misfortune but by misfortune conceived as injury.”

C.S. Lewis at work.

Reflect on that statement a moment while I back up.  The Screwtape Letters were written in the voice of a senior devil giving lessons to a junior devil on how to manipulate mankind.  Now, here’s the rest of the paragraph – all of this under the heading of “Screwtape on Time:”

Men are not angered by mere misfortune but by misfortune conceived as injury.  And the sense of injury depends  on the feeling that a legitimate claim has been denied.  The more claims on life, therefore, that your patient can be induced to make, the more often he will feel injured and, as a result, ill-tempered.”

I would add the phrase “…and the more likely they are to call an attorney.”  No, I am not equating attorneys with Msr. Screwtape – they serve an extraordinary role in our society.  I am just saying that it would be far better in a conflict to reflect on the above statement and to make sure that in a business (or personal) disagreement, the split is not caused by mere happenstance.

In real estate, we live in a risky world with long time horizons wherein circumstances change.  Lord knows, none of us expected these last few years to continue apace.  But these were misfortunes and not injuries and we need to make sure we separate the two.  Not to say that there are not bad actors, sadly our industry is rife with people that you will only do one deal with, but make sure you distinguish between a downturn caused by the market from one caused by intent before you lawyer up.  It will save you a lot of heartache, potentially a friendship or two and a lot of sleepless nights.