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What Does Jury Duty Teach Us about Ourselves?

This week for the first time in my life I served on a jury. I had always wanted to serve but found the experience taught me a lot of lessons about life that I didn’t see coming.

In my day job, I had picked juries, presented evidence to them, argued my case, waited on jurors’ reactions. But I had never been on the other side of the process, the one where twelve people struggle to sort through the facts and make a decision.

It was a Texas car wreck case, a civil case tried in a local court that lasted about three days counting jury selection, presentation of the evidence, and our deliberations.

In Texas, a civil case doesn’t require a unanimous verdict, rather only ten of the twelve jurors need agree on the answers to the questions the judge gave us.

And that’s the way it went. We reached a verdict all right. On a 10-2 split vote.

The first lesson I learned was that people are complicated. Each of us presents a persona to the outside world, a picture of ourselves we have cultivated over the course of our lives, and that persona is our default self, the one we are willing to project to strangers. It may or may not reflect the truth about ourselves.

The next thing I saw was that the self we project has little to do with what really makes us tick.

Everyone I served with on the jury came across as a decent person, the sort of person you would like to know better, the type of person who is trustworthy and thoughtful regarding the deep questions about how life works.

But that common humanity I observed in each of my fellow jurors didn’t mean that we would agree.

I learned how deeply we can disagree without being treacherous or without demonizing one another.

I also learned how many prejudgments about my fellow human beings I carried into that jury box.

None of us is a blank slate, and none of us can set aside a life time of living and make a judgment unaffected by our pre-conceived notions.

So what do these insights have to do with the theme of this blog, the quest for fairness, clarity of thought, and mindfulness? What do they have to do with writing and being true to ourselves?

My takeaway is that to know ourselves is to realize how little we actually know about ourselves.

Wisdom and compassion are what really matter, and both those things are in short supply.

How about we give each other the benefit of the doubt and work together to carve out a world in which fairness, justice, and mercy exist side by side in the messiness of life as we live it?

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