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  • Judge Jim Gray

What's in a Word?

When it comes down to it, we all think in words. So if a person does not understand the difference between – or among – words, that person probably does not understand the differing concepts either. Of course words have particular meanings. For example, what is the difference between the words “can” and “may.” Can involves ability, and may involves permission. Yes, I can drive a car on public streets while intoxicated, but I may not. Furthermore, only a speaker can imply a particular idea, but only the listener can infer what that idea is. And, as I have learned since I have been speaking publicly about our nation’s policy of drug prohibition, there is a vast difference between the words “legalized sales,” and the words “strictly regulated and controlled sales.” For example, the latter contain restrictions on such things as the ages of the person purchasing and using products like marijuana, as well as its advertising, and the former really does not. So if most people are asked if they want to legalize marijuana, the answer would be a flat “No!” But if asked if they would like to strictly regulate and control marijuana like wine, the answer much more often would be “Sure, why not?”

So this gets me to the main point of today’s column. We all should be aware in our daily as well as societal lives that there is a distinct difference between the word “solve” and the word “resolve.” Most human problems and difficulties do not have a solution. In fact, if you want to have a solution you should become a mathematician because, for example, the area of a rectangle can always be determined by applying the formula of the length times the width. But solutions are almost never found with human or societal problems. And this is particularly true in my profession, which is mediating and trying to find a resolution of human disputes. For example, the solution to a problem where a driver went through a red light, hit your car and broke your arm would be for your arm not to have been broken in the first place. But none of us can do that! So all we can do is to find a resolution, which means that the injured person would receive some amount of money from the driver, and maybe even an apology, and then both parties could pick themselves up, dust themselves off and get on with their lives. And that is also true regarding problems between the Israelis and Palestinians, Russia and the Ukraine, criminals and their victims, manufacturers and their suppliers and virtually everything else. There are grievances on all sides, and in many cases they have existed for a long time. But there is no solution other than employing some understanding and sympathy, and then applying some resolutions so that we can stop the bleeding, employ an artificial remedy, and then put the problem aside and get on with our lives, personal, business or societal. Please think about this concept and share it with others. I think you, and they, will be glad you did.

This article is a reprint of an original post published on Judge Jim Gray's site. The views expressed in it are those of the author and not necessarily the views of the Libertarian Party of Orange County.

James P. Gray is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, and presently works as a private mediator and arbitrator for ADR Services, Inc. He was also the 2012 vice presidential nominee for the Libertarian Party, and can be contacted at, or through his website at

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