The story goes that Ransom Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart) a man of law and order, goes out west and has a few run-in’s with the local bad man, Liberty Valence (Lee Marvin). Eventually, things get to be so bad in the tiny town of Shinbone that Ransom finally realizes that law and order cannot stand in the face of evil, and that some things can’t be solved with a law book and “fancy words.” So, he gets a gun and, on the advice of Tom Doniphon (John Wayne), he decides to prepare for the ultimate showdown against Liberty.
Except, Ransom can’t hit the broad side of a barn with a bullet, and he doesn’t take out Liberty.
And at the climactic moment of truth, Tom Doniphon, shoots Liberty from the shadows, thus ending his reign of terror over the town and ensuring the rise of civilization and law and order.
It’s a great film (Woody Allen called it one of the best films in American cinematic history) but what’s the point of bringing it up?
Well, the titular line at the end—from the mouth of a newspaper editor—has come down in American cultural history: “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
How many legends of conflicts that have occurred in your organization—be it a church, a workplace, a nonprofit, a school—have become truth, long after the facts of the conflict have been misremembered.
What shifts a conflict story down the line to conflict legend all the way to conflict myth, is the old schoolyard game, Whisper Down the Lane.
When the story of conflict, which is personal and meaningful, becomes calcified into legend, which is impersonal and dogmatic, no amount of conflict resolution or training is going to change the conflict culture.
And then the legend gets printed, over and over again, gradually becoming operating myth, which becomes codified in the worst phrase possible in an organization…
“Well, we’ve always done it this way.”
-Peace Be With You All-
Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: email@example.com