LEAVE THE GUN, TAKE THE CANNOLI : Mediation Tips I learned from The Godfather

By Joe Murphey

Miles Mediation founder and owner John Miles is the consummate movie buff. John can quote (extensively) from a variety of classic movies, but when it comes to The Godfather, I honestly believe he can recite the entire script from beginning to end.

So, when John asked me to put something together for the blog, I felt obliged to pay tribute to THE movie of all movies. And, as it happens, there’s a lot to learn about mediation from The Godfather. (Maybe this will be the first installment in a series.) Today’s lesson: Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli.

For anyone who just arrived on planet earth, or just woke up from a 30 year coma, watch this YouTube video first, then continue reading:

Here’s the context: Paulie, Don Corleone’s body guard, was out “sick” when the Don’s rival arranged a hit on the Don. Paulie fell down on the job; so now he’s gotta go. It’s just the mob way. Peter Clemenza and Rocco Lampone are sent out, with Paulie, to do some “collections”. Peter’s wife had also told him to pick up some Cannoli while he was out, which they do. SO, when Peter steps out of the car to relieve himself, Rocco puts a few slugs into Paulie. As they leave, Peter delivers one of the most quoted lines in movie history.

Critics and scholars have long debated the meaning of “Leave the gun, take the cannoli”. Some say it refers to keeping violence and negativity in the past — take only the “sweet” things with you into the future. Perhaps, but the movie only gets bloodier after that scene. A lot bloodier.

Here’s a mediator’s take on the meaning of the famous scene: One of the most mercurial concepts at mediation is “value”. What is an injury claim worth? What it is it worth to go through a wrongful arrest or detention? What is partial performance under a contract worth? What are medical services actually worth? The rooms at Miles Mediation are filled on a daily basis with folks – many of them experts whose life work it has been to determine the answers to these questions – who struggle to agree.

There’s wisdom in the words of Peter Clemenza helpful to parties at mediations. A gun is clearly more expensive than a box of cannoli. A gun has more “value” in an abstract sense. But Peter astutely concludes having a gun that can be traced to a mob hit is not practically useful. Whereas, bringing home a box of cannoli to your wife, in honor of her request, has a great deal of practical usefulness. What’s useful is often more important than what is, technically speaking, more expensive.

In mediation, abstract concepts of value can, and often should, yield to the concept practical usefulness. If, for example, you can prove that partial performance under a contract has a certain value, but the work turned out to be of no use to the other party, will you recover all you can “prove”? Maybe not. Or, if you can prove your client incurred huge medical bills, but the treatment had no curative effect, can you recover at trial all that you prove? The treatment was expensive, but did it have value?

From the defense perspective, just because you can “prove” a personal injury plaintiff had a pre-existing, dormant condition, does that fact matter if the plaintiff, from a practical standpoint, was feeling no pain and receiving no treatment before the accident?

Participants in mediation generally get better results when they surrender notions of absolute value, and are willing to consider that a jury will likely view evidence from practical and pragmatic viewpoint: What real, practical useful purpose was served?

SO, the next time you are at mediation and find your client, your opponent, or your mediator, focusing on “the gun”, tell them to leave the gun, and take the cannoli.