dallas morning news

The Great Tragedy of St. Elmo’s Fire

dallasnews.com/Columbia Pictures

dallasnews.com/Columbia Pictures

I knew Ralph Strangis in only the loosest since of the word. Perhaps it’s better to say that I knew of him through his work as the very good play-by-play voice of the Dallas Stars. As someone who didn’t grow up with hockey, I always enjoyed listening to Strangis and his broadcast partner, Daryl “Razor” Reaugh. They made hockey accessible to me, and I’m sure hundreds of thousands of others.

But who knew that Strangis was a terrific social commentator? Not me, for sure. But he is.

Strangis recently published “The Great Tragedy of St. Elmo’s Fire” in the Dallas Morning News. It’s a wonderful, thoughtful piece.

St. Elmo’s Fire, for you young people, is a coming-of-age movie for those of us who grew up in the 1980s. While it doesn’t seem that long ago, it was, and Strangis clearly and poignantly communicates that. Strangis writes:

I notice things that just wouldn’t happen today. Jules sits in a bar stirring her drink with a plastic straw, thinking about her life. Kevin and Kirby have a long exchange in their apartment about life and love. Billy is uninterrupted when he swoops in with the makeshift blowtorch to rescue Jules from her self-imposed drama.

I am reminded of a time where the daily human experience was not hijacked by a handheld device.

There was a time when we sat, talked, and thought. Now, we are “handcuffed” to our handheld digital devices. I’ve read articles about how to unplug from work during your summer vacation, forced by the expectation–implicit or explicit–that we’re all on call, 24/7. Couldn’t we all use a digital detox?

Strangis suggests that the technology controls us; we don’t control it. When it bings, whistles, or beeps, we grab it and respond. We line up for the newest and shiniest new iteration of a device. Strangis suggests that by doing so, we’re treating ourselves poorly. We line our minds with trivia and status updates and arrogance instead of sitting down, listening, and reflecting.

This is a must read for many of us. Maybe after reading it, we can talk with someone about it? Or do what I’m doing, blogging about it and then posting a status update.

Chris Nolland, Settlement Counsel

Photo: Dallas Morning News

Photo: Dallas Morning News

A long time ago, Chris Nolland taught a negotiations class at SMU Law (and he still does). I took that class and still have somewhat fond memories of it. One thing that Chris taught me was that I didn’t know how to negotiate.

Since that time, I’ve had the chance to negotiate–a lot–and I’m still trying live up to Chris’ standards.

When I decided to become a mediator, I called Chris. I asked him if I could shadow him for a mediation to see how things work. I wanted to shadow Chris because he’s one of the best mediators anywhere. I thought that my call wouldn’t be returned, or that he’d be too busy for a newbie like me. Was I wrong. He invited me to a mediation, talked to me during the mediation, and afterwards generously provided advice on how to run a practice. He also gave me a lead to some of the best chicken soup in Dallas.

When I was chair of the Dallas Bar Association’s ADR Section, I asked Chris to talk to the bar. He did without any reservations or hesitation.

So I was very pleased to see that the Dallas Morning News wrote an article about Chris, his vision in the field of settlement counsel and his successes as settlement counsel. It’s a practice that Chris was able to see before anyone else. He’s smart and he’s a visionary. 

So to Chris, I offer my sincerest congratulations on this recognition. It’s well deserved and I publicly thank you for taking the time to help me become the negotiator and mediator that I am today, although I still have a lot of work to do. The chicken soup suggestion was excellent, as well.

One last note: my friend John DeGroote is quoted in the article. John and I found each other through blogging on mediation and negotiations, and I’m happy to say that I was at the “house warming” of his new mediation complex in Dallas at the Hickory Street Annex. The office is comfortable and cutting edge at the same time. You need to visit it–I bet you’ll see something different from every angle. That’s how great mediators and negotiators–like Chris and John–see things.