Lessons from a jury room

Jury boxYou have been summoned to appear.

I’d like to take the high road and say that I fully accept jury duty as the privilege that it is. But that would really not be truthful. I am, like many, a reluctant juror. I do accept the responsibility and I am grateful that, however dysfunctional we may find our legal system to be at times, we have one. But I am still a reluctant juror.

Not knowing how this works in other states, I can only say that I do what many of you probably do if you live in Texas. I re-schedule until I cannot reschedule anymore. And then I finally appear. Such was the case this past January.

There are a number of factors for why I believe we resist this particular activity. For me those include the fact that I have to commute into downtown Houston during the rush hour traffic. As someone who now works primarily from a home office, my defensive driving skills need refreshing to take on that particular stretch of highway at that hour. But even for those used to the commute or even living within a much closer proximity, there remains the fact that you must appear to do something we feel reluctant to do for an unspecified period of time with absolutely no real control in the process.

This was my third encounter with the court system as a juror here in Texas. This time I was determined that I was going to see this as an opportunity to step outside of my normal world and see what I could learn. And so the lessons appeared. Because whatever we set as our intention for something will be what happens. Here are three of the lessons I’ve taken with me from the experience:

Lesson #1:  People that prepare to wait do so more patiently. By preparing to wait, I’m talking about having something to do during the time that they wait. This was particularly interesting to see. In a room of over 300 people, what they brought with them to do as they waited was fun to observe.

More than a few books scattered about the room of course but now they were interspersed with reading devices vs. just books. Some people of course were using those devices for other purposes such as playing games, handling e-mail and other business or even in a few cases, with ear-buds in place listening to music or watching movies.

There were also people that were diligently writing. I was surprised by the number of people doing this. Pen and paper in hand they were recording words and sentences about something of importance to them in their own worlds. I myself spent some time with pencil in hand making lists and working on thoughts for blog posts.

And of course there were those there with knitting baskets, crochet hooks and embroidery projects in progress. These were also the chatterers. They are well used to doing their craft while carrying on conversations and the intimacy of strangers encourages that in these settings.

The people with the highest visible stress levels were those that came to wait but were not prepared to wait. That re-enforced my belief that quite often, being prepared trumps having a plan. It’s far more reliable for an outcome.

Lesson #2:  There are some activities in life that require us to always return to the beginning. Those seem to be when other people are involved but it’s an important lesson to recognize that for certain things, a common base of knowledge and understanding is crucial. There can be no assumptions about who is in the room and what they individually know. You must start at the beginning every time so that there is assurance of an equal opportunity to process the most critical facts.

Because this was my third time through the process, at least 60% of the initial process didn’t need to be explained to me. But there were others there that had never been there before. And so we all had to begin again. Together – from the beginning.

I saw this again recently in a business coaching program. The leader of the program was taking everyone back to very basic information about what it means to own a business. At first I resisted this thinking it was a waste of time. We all knew that. But we didn’t. There were parts of that information I hadn’t heard before and most assuredly, parts that I knew that others had not heard. So again, we had to begin at the beginning.

Lesson #3: Everyone makes decisions differently. Some of us are deeply analytical and require a significant amount of data in order to make a choice. Others are more inclined to go with their instincts and just choose based on intuition. Still others seem unable to decide no matter what information is provided. They just struggle with that process.

Never has that been more apparent to me that in the jury room during deliberations. It became very clear that for all of us, what matters is that we feel relevant and heard. It’s important that our individual process is protected and respected.

We started out as a jury greatly divided but we were able to come to a unanimous agreement because of two things. We showed respect for each other and we each were able to express without fear of judgment what we believed. Had that not existed, the case would have had to have been carried over to another jury.

As we go through life, the decisions we make are very rarely going to only impact us. There is a direct impact or, at a minimum, a ripple effect for those around us. When we stop to consider them in the process and give them a safe place to be heard and seen, they will add brilliantly to our own deliberation and allow us to move forward in unison and accord.

I spent five days at the court house, 3 of them in a court room and 2 of them in a small room with 11 other people making a decision about a young man’s life with far reaching consequences. I took away a deeper respect for all of the people involved in the system. And more than one lesson for life beyond that room.

I’m glad I made the choice to find the lessons. When was the last time you had to take on something you really did not relish doing? What did it teach you? The lessons are there if we’re willing to see them.

Live today like you want tomorrow to be. Live well. Learn well.

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