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Lessons from Jury Duty

by Tim McMullen

Every now and then you have an experience that forces you to just take a step back and think. I recently spent a week on the jury of a court case about a baby losing her life to the negligence of her parents. Here are some of my observations and reflections:

1) The Internet of Things is going to change the world of liability.

In this case, the parents purposely tampered with the technology that tracked their child’s vital signs. Later, that data helped prove the parents’ guilt. The amount of data collected about our actions and conversations has increased exponentially. Every decision leaves a trail that can be used to not only prove that a decision was made, but also to provide information on the motives behind it. We all know that we are responsible for our actions and words, but we may not realize the extent to which technology now holds us accountable, and how easily accessible that information is. We need to be more intentional than ever about examining our motivations and decisions to ensure that they are reflective of our character.

2) Attorneys don’t ask questions they don’t already know the answers to.

Courtroom proceedings leave very little margin for spontaneous questioning. I noticed how carefully the attorneys had crafted their arguments, and I couldn’t help but wonder how much research and preparation they had put into this case. Preparedness does more than make us feel ready to go into a conversation — it gives us an advantage because we’ve already anticipated and constructed responses to problems or concerns that may be brought up. Doing the research and coming in with truly meaningful questions streamlines efficiency and equips us to treat problems instead of symptoms.

3) Not a note taker? Become one!

Of all fourteen jurors, only two took notes during the trial. I took twenty-seven pages of notes over the course of the week. While that might seem a little overboard, that information helped me to connect ideas and comments across multiple days of questioning to construct a more complete picture of the situation. Taking notes gives us the opportunity to reflect, to detect patterns, and to identify trends and questions that keep cropping up. There is so much value in taking time to address our thoughts. Taking notes gives our ideas space to interact with each other as we go about our daily lives. You never know what will spark a breakthrough, so give yourself plenty of opportunities to explore your thoughts by taking notes on whatever strikes you as valuable.

4) Good life habits are not just for today; they determine how strong you will be when life throws a crisis at you.

Neglect is both the absence of positive action and the presence of negative action. In the context of this case, the bad habits of the parents resulted in not only the deterioration of their own lives, but also the end of their child’s life. They were not strong in any aspect of their lives. Physically, mentally, relationally or financially. And this big change in their life was just too much for them to handle and they made some terrible decisions. Underestimating the future value of our daily habits is dangerous. Maintaining good habits means investing in our future selves. We are all going to have trying times come at us in life. We may not know what they are, but we sure as heck can be ready.

5) There are some decisions in life that leave no margin for error.

This case reminded me just how much responsibility we have when we make decisions that can affect the lives of others. I think the best way we can approach major decisions is by diligently examining the context surrounding the problem. If we can recognize the issues our choices should address, and the extent to which these choices will affect others, we can make effective decisions that have long-lasting positive impacts.

6) Everyone has something going on in their life that they need your empathy for.
The process of being selected to be a juror can be pretty intense. Prospective jurors are asked a number of personal questions so the attorneys on the case identify bias which might prevent them from making an objective decision about the case. During this process, I listened to each person’s responses, many of which were profoundly personal and revealed a vulnerability that we can all relate to. It’s rare to have the opportunity to hear so many of these kind of stories all at one time. Empathy is not something we give to someone else, it’s something we share with someone else. The experiences that have scarred us are often the grounds on which we can relate most intimately to another person. Even though our wounds may be different, the profound pain we feel is a burden that all people can understand. It is this pain and desire for healing that create the sense of solidarity that allows us to relate to one another on a fully human level.


I think that by maintaining a willingness to listen and to look for the insights around me, I was able to grow from this experience in a way I didn’t anticipate. I would encourage you to think about ways you could be more open and intentional about seeking growth opportunities in your daily life or any unique situation you might be thrown into. You don’t need to be in any certain environment or with any certain group of people to learn. What is one new way you can pursue learning this week?

Originally published at https://ideas.redpepper.land/lessons-from-jury-duty-8d142ab843cd on July 12, 2018

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