Growing up in the South, many of us have heard lots of “country sayings,” such as this one attributed to Mark Twain: “There is nothing to be learned from the second kick of a mule.”

Nearly everyone who grew-up around horses and mules had to learn the hard way — despite all warnings — what can happen when you stand directly behind one. If you’ve ever been kicked by either, I doubt you’ve forgotten it. I know I haven’t.

In the same way, most of the valuable lessons I’ve learned in life came from making mistakes — and many of those lessons were painful. Being human, I’ve been known to repeat some of my dumber mistakes — leading me to receive the proverbial “second kick of the mule.”

Fast learners in my profession will accept a difficult litigation experience as an instructive mule’s first kick. They learn from their mistakes, take corrective action, and avoid the mule’s second kick.

There are those who learn quickly – – –

I recently mediated a medical malpractice case where a patient was strapped to the operating table during surgery so that the table could be tilted to give the surgeon the best angle for the surgery. The surgery was completed without incident. But during the cleanup, the unconscious patient slid off the table and struck her head, causing injury.

I was impressed during the mediation to learn that this incident led the hospital to completely rethink its protocol for ensuring that it never happened again. Though the procedure for the surgery had complied with the standard of care, the hospital recognized that its procedure could be improved, and they made the necessary changes.

– – – and those who don’t

On the other hand, I get cases involving companies accused of repeating safety and compliance violations, over and over. Using the metaphor above, these are organizations getting kicked by avoidable problems — then standing-up, brushing-off, walking behind the same mule, and (presumably) expecting a different result.

What’s the takeaway?

For me, it’s this: First lessons, which are often expensive, can — and should — be valuable learning experiences. They’re opportunities to avoid costly repeats of the same problem. But in order to enjoy their value, you have to see that the benefit comes from learning not what hurt, but rather what caused the pain. Namely, the mistake(s) that led to the pain.

Mediation provides a great tool for correcting mistakes made in business and in life. Hopefully, you can help your clients learn from their mistakes and avoid the second kick of the mule.

PS: The Twain quote above reminds me of how characters on “Green Acres” (now streaming on Amazon Video, BTW) periodically cite countrified aphorisms with the show’s characteristic absurdist slant. Two examples, for your entertainment: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him think.” “She’s prettier than a little red wagon going up a steep hill.”

Enjoy the journey.