I got sucked into one of my more notable cases shortly after I finished law school and entered the work force.
It involved feuding next door neighbors and was venued in Miami-Dade county, which meant I had the treat of riding on planes, staying the night in swanky hotels, and eating at fancy restaurants when I had to travel from Tampa for hearings and other case-related events.
Both of these neighbors were wealthy beyond comprehension and had money to burn on legal fees and costs.
We will call them Hatfield and McCoy.
Hatfield grew up poor and made a ton of money in the phosphate industry in the early 1990s. He was dishonest, generally disliked, and was on his fifth marriage by the time I got involved in the case.
Hatfield accompanied his wife to her deposition (along with their private chauffeur), and introduced her to the group as “Lydia… my Trophy Wife.”
(Lydia looked like a Playboy Bunny, so I guess she really was his Trophy Wife.)
Hatfield only stayed at this home in Miami for two months out of the year and lived in California for the remainder. It was my understanding he also owned property in Martha’s Vineyard.
McCoy was a lovely man who worked hard his entire life to support his family, started a successful business manufacturing widgets for cellular phones, and acquired enough wealth to put his (unborn) great-grandchildren through college.
McCoy purchased a lot next to Hatfield’s multi-million dollar home on an exclusive island close to South Beach.
McCoy demolished the existing home on the property so he could build a new one. There was also some weather-related structural damage to his dock for which he had to take down the old one and start from scratch.
Every resident on the island needed a dock so they had somewhere to park their luxury yachts.
McCoy had no interaction with Hatfield until construction on his dock was nearly finished. One day in the middle of summer, Hatfield came out of his house screaming the location of the new dock obstructed his view of the bay.
McCoy explained that several engineers from the county “vetted” the location of the dock and he received all the necessary permits for constructing it.
Hatfield disagreed and filed a lawsuit.
In the lawsuit, Hatfield added claims that McCoy’s mailbox was in the wrong location and that vibrations from pile driving during construction of the new home crossed Hatfield’s property line and created cracks in his olympic-size swimming pool.
Hatfield never attempted to work out these issues with McCoy as an alternative to suing him- he just wanted to sue.
He was petty.
He would never admit his pettiness and “let it go” because he was so fixated on one thing: being right.
Hatfield wanted to be right about the location of the dock.
He wanted to be right about the placement of the mailbox.
He wanted to be right that the construction of McCoy’s home cracked his swimming pool.
But how was “being right” going for him when it cost him peace and friendship with his neighbors and tons of money in legal fees?
Not very well.
I don’t know Hatfield’s personal background, but I am willing to bet that “being right” cost him his first four marriages.
It probably cost him business opportunities.
More than anything, it probably cost him happiness and satisfaction.
Here was a guy who seemingly had it all: a successful company, plenty of money, a beautiful wife, multi-million dollar homes in three different locations and he still wasn’t happy.
None of it was enough.
So he had to fight with his neighbor about dumb things like a dock, a mailbox, and a swimming pool for the sake of being right.
(Important Note: McCoy ended up winning the lawsuit after a judge agreed that the location of the dock and mailbox were appropriate and the pool cracks existed before the home was built and they simply needed to find a way to remodel swimming pool. Basically what everyone knew all along.)
This incredible scenario triggered some self reflection about how many times I’ve been so concerned in my personal life about “being right” about that I didn’t look at the big picture.
How many times have we jumped to conclusions about petty things without investigating all the facts?
How many times have we bid adieu to people who were “true and blue” friends or family members about something that didn’t really matter in the scheme of things?
(You gotta look deep deep deep deep down and really admit to yourself that what you were mad about was dumb.)
How many times have we been upset when someone didn’t meet our unexpressed expectations and so we wrote them off?
How many times have we been so hell bent about being right about something that we didn’t consider the people we were hurting or alienating?
It’s time to let it go.
Thank goodness for job security, but I see this all the time in my profession. People who can’t let go of being right that they will spend years of their lives and tons of money to prove it. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a divorce lawyer. Oy vey!
Do you have an issue with dock?
Let it go.
What is your mailbox?
Let it go.
Cracks in your swimming pool?
Let them go.
Look left. Look right. Up and down. Look at the big picture and consider all you have in your life that is going well and focus on that.
You don’t have to be right about things that really don’t matter.