I just heard Dahlia Lithwick over the weekend on NPR describing her new theory of the world — Muppet Theory — and I am convinced that this could usefully explain much of the legal system as well. Lithwick, a writer for Slate Magazine and Newsweek, has divided the world into Berts and Ernies. As she outlines in her article on Slate,
Every one of us is either a Chaos Muppet or an Order Muppet. Chaos Muppets are out-of-control, emotional, volatile. They tend toward the blue and fuzzy. They make their way through life in a swirling maelstrom of food crumbs, small flaming objects, and the letter C. Cookie Monster, Ernie, Grover, Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and—paradigmatically—Animal, are all Chaos Muppets. Zelda Fitzgerald was a Chaos Muppet. So, I must tell you, is Justice Stephen Breyer. Order Muppets—and I’m thinking about Bert, Scooter, Sam the Eagle, Kermit the Frog, and the blue guy who is perennially harassed by Grover at restaurants (the Order Muppet Everyman)—tend to be neurotic, highly regimented, averse to surprises and may sport monstrously large eyebrows. They sometimes resent the responsibility of the world weighing on their felt shoulders, but they secretly revel in the knowledge that theykeep the show running. Your first grade teacher was probably an Order Muppet. So is Chief Justice John Roberts. It’s not that any one type of Muppet is inherently better than the other. (Order Muppets do seem to attract the ladies, but then Chaos Muppets collect the chicken harems.) It’s simply the case that the key to a happy marriage, a well-functioning family, and a productive place of work lies in carefully calibrating the ratio of Chaos Muppets to Order Muppets within any closed system. That, and always letting the Chaos Muppets do the driving.
So, how could we apply Muppet Theory to dispute resolution?
What if we viewed the development of ADR as the Chaos Muppets trying to balance out the Order Muppets in the judicial system? And the perceived takeover of court-connected ADR by lawyers are the Order Muppets trying to regain their foothold? We could, instead of talking about negotiation styles, sort our students by whether they are Chaos Muppets or Order Muppets and then discuss what happens when each type of Muppet interacts with the other. When conducting mediation trainings, we could discuss the balance between Order and Chaos that each mediator must bring to the table (the Muppet Mediator, if you will). The possibilities are endless. I am already thinking about how to teach this . . . .
I highly recommend reading the full article and then listening to Lithwick on NPR (if only for the theme music “Mahna Mahna, beep, beep be de bop, at the end). And, as Lithwick herself signed off, this post is brought to you by the letter M and the number 2.
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