The Un-Christian Juror

I finished up my month of jury duty last fall. Yes, you read that right: a month of jury duty. As things settled back to my usual craziness, I decided that I was rather disturbed by my behavior.

I have spent the last fifteen or so years trying to become less critical. It took a few years of marriage for my husband to persuade me that what I thought was normal evaluation was actually insanely judgmental and rude. Chew with your mouth open? I noticed. Sit around chatting while everyone else cleaned up the ward dinner? Caught that, too. Didn’t use your car’s blinker? Did use poor grammar? Turned up in school with bizarre clothes, hairstyle, or shoes? I probably observed and silently noted it somewhere in my little mind, cataloging the myriad details which are useful to a writer creating characters, but are discourteous (at best) in real life.

As I said, I have spent years un-learning my critical nature.  I have tried to stop noticing. Having rheumatoid arthritis helps: I wear my blue-and white tennis shoes with jeans, dresses, and black dress slacks because my feet hurt (not judging how anyone’s footwear matches his or her outfit recently), and I buy clothing based on ease of buttoning, pulling over my head, and looseness—comfort rather than style being my new mode of decision-making. I really have no idea anymore what is or is not in style, so I feel no urge to judge on that. When I notice a judgmental thought coming, I try to replace it with something positive or at least neutral (ie, I choose to believe that the person who cut me off in traffic is rushing to an emergency or that the person with wide-mouth mastication habits has a cold sore that makes eating awkward). I make a point to notice when I misjudge and ponder again how I rarely I know what I am talking about.

Given my efforts, what happened on jury duty was bizarre.

Was it because I haven’t been in a courtroom since high school “Court Day” that I felt the need to closely observe the room and people? I was nervous and interested in the process, so I paid attention to detail. Or perhaps it was because I knew I was there to judge a case that my critical nature re-asserted itself? Possibly true, though that doesn’t fully explain why I had wittily snotty nicknames for all the attorneys long before the voir dire was half-over.  One glance was all it took to slap on labels they spent the next month trying (rather unsuccessfully) to live down. Sure, I didn’t know their names at that point, but labels? Really? Has the last decade meant nothing?

Apparently not. Because no detail was too small for me, and all were categorized and placed appropriately on my unwritten credibility chart. A doctor who dresses casually and chews gum on the witness stand? Not so credible. A nurse with stiletto heels and a skirt tight enough to trace underwear lines? Not sure I can believe her, either. A psychiatrist who turns and talks to the jurors intelligently not condescendingly? Nice. Plus points for him. Untied shoes, too-new suits, poor grammar, mocking tones, rolled eyes, talking over the judge, strange well-dressed man in the audience who sits on defendant’s “side,” nervous tics, ruffled papers, technology mishaps, aggressive questioning, slouching at the podium, low-cut blouses—I saw and pigeon-holed it all.

Well, not everything. It took a compatriot juror to tell me about what cars the plaintiffs and defendants drove, noting the inappropriate bumper stickers on one and her reluctance to believe testimony based upon it. Personally, I missed the parking lot connections completely. Cars aren’t really my thing, and I was trying to avoid courtroom people everywhere but inside the courtroom.

Strange as it sounds, I honestly did not notice the irony when I assigned my freshman writing class to read and discuss Flannery O’Connor’s “Revelation” with the substitute teacher while I was serving my jury duty. The arrogant Mrs. Turpin simply cannot see her own prideful and prejudiced state, and she needs a literal whack upside the head to knock some sense into her. When my students write their analysis papers on this essay, inevitably one has a Freudian slip and calls the main character Mrs. Turley instead of Mrs. Turpin for the whole essay. You would think I would see the obvious. Ouch.

Turnabout is fair play. Today I feel like I am on trial. A social worker is coming to visit our home to see how she can help my son, who was the victim of a fairly severe bullying incident at school. When she said she would like to visit us at home, I immediately thought that I had better clean. Then I thought that I had better not clean because the house would look too clean, and she would think I was OCD. I wondered what I should wear and whether to offer her something to drink or eat, and I reminded myself not to make silly jokes or get too quiet – both unfortunate habits I fall into when meeting new people. Then I told myself I was being ridiculous. She probably wouldn’t think about me at all.

But maybe she will. Maybe she’s judgmental like me. Ouch.

16 comments for “The Un-Christian Juror

  1. Nice article, Julie. I’ve done a bit of research since the trial and found the same sort of bias holds true in the courtroom, too.

  2. I hope the compensation was able to remotely justify the judgement. (IE: Only getting a $1 a day? Yeah, I’m not putting my whole heart into it)

  3. Loved the read and found it hard not to say “she criticized about that” without realizing I was criticizing your criticism.

  4. comfort rather than style being my new mode of decision-making

    That is the first thing I thought a very commendable start to realising others’ choices are not always what they want to do, rather than what they need to do.

    All in all, it made me think my own judgementalism. I’m a grammar snob, and I always notice misspelling. Well, not when it’s mine… that should give me a clue! Thanks for the reminder.

    But are we all really jerks? Well, that’s what we may look like to a certain parts of the population regardless of what we do. So because of that only, we should try to avoid judging others by their appearance or some choices we think stupid.

    We have talked about judging others and negative comments in our family. We’ve decided so often to stop saying negative things about others. But to be honest, it’s tough when your favourite humour is of the sarcastic kind. You know, pick a smart British comedy, and I’m ROTFL. John Cleese? A riot.

    So, about every month or so we have this conversation about stopping the negativity. Well, at least we still have politicians, right? And left.

    P.S. If you think you see misspellings, as I said, I’m a grammar snob, and I’ve started to use British spelling, trying to go back to Queen’s English. We hope.

  5. I am a little bit like you when it comes to judging others. (However, I never drink my own medicine and so I have made little progress in diminishing this characteristic).

    Therefore in the spirit of being as judgemental as possible (and stirring the pot), did it ever occur to you that the reason your son is getting bullied and isn’t the one dishing out the punishment is because your excessive judgmentalism of him has made him weak and a target, deserving of such treatment?

    Ouch! Double ouch!

    Just kidding, but I couldn’t resist. I bet the reality of the problem is that your boy can handle himself fine with minimal sensible support from his mom.

  6. The jury awarded the plaintiff a sizeable (though stunningly less gargantuan than asked for) settlement.

  7. The compensation wasn’t close to worth it, but seeing the process up close was fascinating.

  8. Kylie, I commend your wisdom in dealing with the bullying issue. That could have profound implications for your son in the future. I have known of other parents who have chosen to ignore this kind of harassment and their adult children are still paying the consequences. Be relentless in demanding your that your son’s right to a harassment free learning environment be vigilantly maintained.
    By the way, your essay caught me right between the eyes. Not three hours ago I watched a man crossing a major street in downtown “Zion” who was turned out in a well tailored suit with white shirt and tie, clean shaven, thoroughly well groomed but wearing running shoes. I also made some uncharitable observations to those with me regarding his faux pas of fashion. I did, however, wonder aloud if he had severe rheumatoid arthritis in his feet. Now, I must heighten my awareness and turn down my criticism lest the same be used on me in the day of my own final Judgement.

  9. Err, sorry for the grammatical errors and any mis-spellings in the previous comment.

  10. Thanks for the concern about the bullying. We had some pretty bad weeks with nightmares, temper tantrums, crying episodes, etc., but he’s calming down now.

    By the way, Raymond (#4), just because I told you about my baseless criticism doesn’t mean I didn’t make some sensible judgments, as well. I filled 3 1/2 notebooks with notes about the case and spent about 17 hours deliberating and going page by page through the provided evidence. Thanks for proving my point, though!

  11. Kyle, I’m sorry to hear about the bullying, too… it much be rather extensive to have had someone to come out, but at least they’re paying attention? My daughter was repeatedly walloped on the bus with a heavy backpack a few weeks ago while and after the same kid screamed obscenities at her… to the point that a couple of other kids came over to help her out… and the bus driver didn’t even notice. I took pictures of the bruising.

    What a weird world we live in- her attacker was nine. She is ten. It is a very different time.

    I truly hope that your sweet one understands how much a bullying attack is not his fault. I was the victim of verbal assaults all through middle school, and it shaped my self image for a long time, until I realized in adulthood how those words and actions were useless. I wonder now how to do things differently with my daughter, who has been suffering for three years now with only more and more increasing attacks, shunning, mocking, etc. How much to protect, without making her feel not protected but sheltered. How much to back away, without her being alone. How much to be in the face of the school, how much to understand that they cannot control every unbalanced kid, every ticking time bomb, how every child being taught or abused should not be targeting mine but the bus driver or teacher is not personally at fault. It is such a strange and delicate line.

    I’m thinking Karate lessons and self defense. Such a hard thing for a parent to see, how very overwhelmed and stressed and sorrowful their child is, and to somehow not have the desire to pulverize their tormentors…

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