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Both Sides Now

I’ve looked at life from both sides now

From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

– Joni Mitchell, Both Sides Now

These words could be a mediator’s anthem! A huge part of what we are trying to do is to understand the situation from both sides. This is very different from a court trial, which is based on the assumption that there is only one truth about what happened at a prior moment in time. But honestly, a lot of times, when I’m mediating, the truth is not really that important. That sounds weird, I know. I don’t always care about facts, but I care a lot about how each person experienced the situation. For instance, it’s less important to me whether one person in a couple actually said the words, “You are a loser.” It’s more important that the other person felt ridiculed and judged.

It seems uncanny that Joni Mitchell wrote Both Sides Now in 1969, when she was only 26. She was young and healthy and seemed to have it all. Her songs were everywhere. Listening to music was a collective experience then. We played her albums on our record players music wafted through the house. We heard the songs from our brother’s rooms and other people’s car radios and over the loudspeakers in supermarkets. We spent hours memorizing the song lyrics, which were printed on the album cover. Joni’s songwriting was complicated and beautiful. Her voice was pure and high and lilting. How could she, at the age of 26, write about life and love (and clouds)?

Joni stopped performing 20 years ago, and she had a brain aneurism in 2015, which stole her ability to walk and to talk. She describes the next few years as a ‘return to infancy.’ She must have worked incredibly hard. This week, she made a surprise appearance at the Newport Folk Festival and played a whole set, supported by Grammy Award winner, Brandi Carlisle, Wyonna Judd and others.

Joni’s voice is much lower now. Her words come out slower. She doesn’t always quite hit the high notes. But her timing is still impeccable, she knows all the words to all the songs, and just how to deliver them. That she could get to a point where she could perform at all must be the result of great doctors and therapists and Joni’s great determination and joie de vivre.

It’s all the more poignant to hear Joni sing this now, knowing what she has been through. You could look at this performance and compare the present day Joni to the younger Joni and see what is lost. Or you could look at it and see her incredible soul shining through, in spite of it all. We humans are all so frail, so vulnerable. And what an incredible triumph of her human spirit.

Well, something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day

Viva Joni! Viva you! Whatever you are going through, keep going.


Joy Rosenthal

Joy S. Rosenthal, Esq. is a compassionate mediator, a skilled negotiator and an intelligent litigator with extensive background in the private and public sectors. Joy served as a Staff Attorney at the Legal Aid Society's Juvenile Rights Division for nearly 10 years, where she represented hundreds of children and teenagers… MORE

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