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Do you throw stones at every barking dog?

Posted in Conflict management,Featured by Rashmi Datt on January 5th, 2012

You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks”, said Winston Churchill.

Earlier, I wrote about the importance of Choosing Your Battles to Win the War: You need to ignore the small stuff— minor setbacks, obstacles and conflicts; so that you focus your energies for the big kill.

Every day brings situations when we might feel offended, angry, provoked or insulted. Reacting to these means challenging others’ decisions, voicing disagreement, or storing feelings of hurt. If we respond to every one of these instances, we will end up feeling irritable and exhausted, leaving little mental space and stamina for the pursuit of our goals. In addition, we will make ourselves disagreeable and difficult team members whom no one will welcome or want.

We need to let go of minor dissonances, to effectively tackle the issues which really matter.

In an interview Fauja Singh the first 100 year old to complete a marathon (the Toronto Waterfront Marathon) said: ‘Why worry about these small, small things? I don’t stress’.

Here is the story of a man who spent many years of his life fighting exhausting legal battles at a great cost. In this obsessive pursuit, he lost his peace of mind, his family, and his potential for further productive work. When he finally retired, after winning millions of dollars in lawsuits (though a large part of it went to pay legal fees), he was still unhappy and discontented. He wanted to file even more cases against the automobile companies he had fought with all his life.

Robert Kearns was the inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper system, used on most automobiles 1969 onwards. The device is now installed worldwide on an estimated twenty million cars annually.

A former mechanical engineering professor, Kearns had damaged vision in one eye from a champagne cork that accidentally hit his right eye on his wedding night. Years later, when he was driving through rain, the constant movement of the wiper blades irritated his troubled vision. ‘Why can’t a wiper vary its speed like a blinking eye?’ he thought to himself. Kearns began experimenting and tinkering in his garage, which led to a windshield wiper modelled after the mechanism of the human eye, which works like an eyelid, blinking occasionally.

He patented his invention in 1964, and took it to Ford, who showed initial interest, but after a while, stopped answering his calls. Kearns discovered that Ford had begun to install intermittent wipers in their cars without acknowledging or paying him. He was so devastated that he had a mental breakdown and was hospitalised at a psychiatric ward, and by the time he emerged several weeks later, his red hair had turned completely white.

He sued Ford Motor Company in 1978 for patent infringement, and a twelve year legal battle ensued. In the end Kearns won, and Ford agreed to settle with Kearns for US $10.1 million. After the Ford settlement, Kearns turned his sights on Chrysler. In December 1991, he won again, and was awarded more than US$20 million. But Kearns was not content, and continued filing lawsuits, eventually against twenty-six car manufacturers and other companies. ‘I don’t think the goal was the magnitude of the money,’ Kearns tried to justify when the Ford case was ended. ‘What I saw (as) my role was to defend the patent system. If I don’t go further, there really isn’t a patent system.’

He paid a heavy price. His wife, who had initially supported him, left, saying she could not take his obsession any longer. Despite the recognition and the money, he was never satisfied with the outcomes. One of the judges who presided over five of the trials said, ‘His zeal got ahead of his judgement.’ His daughter reflected sadly, ‘His life was simply this battle.’

Kearns lived an uneasy retirement, before he died of brain cancer complicated by Alzheimer’s disease.

This can be summed  up by a saying of Confucius: “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves”.




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