Journals and Juries

All things and all men, so to speak, call on us with small or loud voices. They want us to listen. They want us to understand their intrinsic claims, their justice of being. But we can only give it to them through the love that listens. ~Paul Tillich

The day I received it, I let out a despairing, wailing “No!” My husband rushed in and asked what was wrong. I handed him the summons to jury duty, my third in three years.

I’d been allowed exemptions in the past because of my health and my children’s ages, but this time there was no escape; it had to be done. The letter warned of possible overnight stays. Friends told me of the nightmares they still had after hearing evidence at murder, rape and child abuse trials. I believe in democracy, but every day that passed, I grew more and more anxious, dreading the prospect of being separated from my family or having to sit in judgement on another human being, perhaps after listening to harrowing details I would never be able to forget.

The day came, and I arrived at an imposing, Victorian building, its entrance flanked with columns. I walked up a flight of stone steps, crossed the cold, echoing floor of a musty foyer and announced my arrival to a grim-faced receptionist, barricaded behind a high reception desk of polished dark wood. I smiled and asked for help and directions. He barked at me that I wasn’t needed but would have to come back the next day. I stood there stunned, not knowing if I felt angry or relieved. How much vitriol had this man been subjected to for this to be his default?

I drove home, hugged my family, told them it wasn’t over.

Another sleepless night. A morning of strained goodbyes, the children wondering if I’d be home that night. Once again, I drove through the hills to our nearest big town, barely registering the rain clouds hanging heavy in an inky sky. This might be an innocent person’s last day of freedom. I might be about to set a murderer free. I’d deliberately arrived early, and decided to clear my mind by doing some writing in my favourite French café in the cobbled square next to the old church, just round the corner from the County Court.

As I sat, sipping strong black coffee and listening to French accordion music, I visualised the proceedings, mentally preparing myself to tap into every single one of the Proficiencies™ (and any relevant Clarifiers™, Stylepoints™ and Frameworks™) to make sure I was my best self in court, with my fellow jurors and with any court officials I was expected to co-operate and communicate with. Here’s what I was aiming for:

  • To go in with all my own stuff cleaned up.
  • Not to judge or assume or be forced into any tricky lawyer’s manipulation of paradigms while in court listening.
  • To listen well and carefully.
  • To respect everyone’s humanity.
  • To relish truth – in many different ways.
  • To enjoy my fellow jurors immensely.
  • To ask very good clarifying questions, if necessary, while deliberating with other jurors.
  • To remind myself, constantly, that everyone’s doing the best they can with what they’ve got.
  • To recognise the perfection in it all.

This is what emerged in my notebook:

1)     If you’ve been invited to do jury duty, it means you’re alive.

2)     That letter you were sent means you have an address, a home.

3)     You’re not the victim.

4)     You’re not the accused.

5)     You’re anxious because you care.

6)     You’re eligible because you can see, you can hear and you’re healthy.

7)     Like it or not, you’ll learn something about your legal system.

8)     You live in a country that has a legal system.

9)     It’s a perfect chance to listen, really listen, without prejudice, assumptions or malice.

10)   You’re not in this alone.

I finished my coffee, put my notebook away, paid, and crossed the square to the County Court, feeling stronger and more serene than I had for months.

I heard and learned a lot that day, but it was those café thoughts that turned my jury moments into coaching moments.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The call to jury duty happened back in the spring. This piece appeared in my Coaching Moments column in VOICE, the monthly newsletter of The International Association of Coaching, edited by Linda Dessau.

23 thoughts on “Journals and Juries

  1. I’m printing this post. I will keep a copy in my journal and tape a copy above my desk.

    I’ve always dreaded jury duty and remained thankful all these years that the call/letter never came. Your experience, your perspectives make me pause to wonder if I should be thankful at all.

    You see, I am thinking that maybe, just maybe, without that call/that letter, I missed a life-changing opportunity – to listen, to learn and to be really thankful.
    .-= Cheryl Wright´s last blog ..Saturday Soirée – Our lives are compost heaps of writing material =-.

    • Thank you Cheryl. You’re very sweet and I’ve appreciated your kindness and support from the day this blog launched.

  2. I have always been afraid to get called for jury duty, for exactly the same reasons you mention. What if I can’t find enough evidence to convict someone truly evil? What if I send an innocent person to prison for years? Argh. The agony.

    I think the process that you went through in coming to terms with having to serve, is insightful. It’s a great example of taking fear and trepidation and turning it into acceptance and gratitude. I’m glad you shared that internal journey with us.
    .-= Randi´s last blog ..Thursday Thoughts of a Twitterless Thinker 7-23-2009 =-.

    • My friend said that reading this article reminded her of similar thinking she does every time she has to go to the dentist.

      I often turn to the Serenity Prayer for strength and wisdom, and this was a clear case of having to have the courage to accept that there was little I could do about the situation except to change my thoughts, be grateful for the good stuff and not let myself go under.

    • Hi Fred,
      My biggest fear was being separated from my kids and not knowing if I had what it takes to cope with the worst possible scenarios.

    • It’s my way of meditating; focusing on my senses and the details, trying to widen the moment enough for some synchronicity or guidance to slip through the fear and connect me to something bigger, a deeper kind of awareness and strength. This may sound daft, but it slows time down for me too, something else that calms the nerves and sharpens my instincts.

  3. i wish this blog post goes viral ~ farrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr and wwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwide

    already it goes deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep

    thanks for sharing your journey, Janice, modeling integrity and wisdom!

    • Thank you, Connie! I liked this piece enough to tackle Twitter and tell folk about it. 😉

      Someone once asked me why I became a certified coach after I’d done the years of training to become a coach, in an industry that’s not even regulated. Apart from a need for external validation (I come from an academic background and it’s guaranteed me a living to have degrees, certificates and diplomas, regardless of the value ascribed to them by anyone outside of a personnel department) another reason is that I wanted to be able to write pieces like this, without feeling I might be inadvertently harming anyone.

      This piece is testimony to Linda’s belief in me and her skill as an editor. She liked the explanatory email I sent with the article as much as the piece itself and encouraged me to combine them. (I’d been trying to make it shorter than usual but as so often happens, the piece knew how it wanted to get written.)

  4. I love real-life stories like this one. I’m reluctant to say I wanted to read more because it sounds like disappointment, but I did want the story to continue into the court room and into the jury room. I mean, look at this narrative flair.

    “I walked up a flight of stone steps, crossed the cold, echoing floor of a musty foyer and announced my arrival to a grim-faced receptionist, barricaded behind a high reception desk of polished dark wood.”

    “Once again, I drove through the hills to our nearest big town, barely registering the rain clouds hanging heavy in an inky sky.”

    Have you written fiction too, Janice?
    .-= Brenda´s last blog ..Beautiful Form =-.

    • Thank you so much for framing these lines like this. I read them and had that “Did I write those?!” feeling. I deliberately ended the piece where I did for a few reasons, but it was hard. I’d happily write this kind of thing more often, blending real life stories with something I want to share because it’s helped me – it’s what I’m happiest doing – but I worry that folk might tire of hearing about me and my family all the time, and I promised when I started blogging that I would never write about friends or extended family without their permission and guarantees of anonymity. We all write best when we can be boldly honest.

      I cannot tell a lie…. fiction, poetry, screenplay writing and lyrics were my first loves. I won national competions when I was at school and dreamed of a career in writing until what others thought was caring, common sense beat the ‘silliness’ out of me. I was too young then to realise that an English degree would leave me defeated and depressed, not inspired. I graduated with a passion for linguistics, discourse study, concrete poetry and certain kinds of self-expressive prose, but a realisation that I’d never be as good as the writers I admired. I stopped writing stories.

      I only began what I call ‘coachwriting’ three years ago, and it seems to have made sneaky allies of the other four first loves. My sadness is that I haven’t lived outside of my home enough in recent years to be able to bring the vista of an entire novel or story to life. (I like to write from what I know so that it tames my fiercely overactive imagination.) My Greek memories are very intense, but many of those have been deliberately buried to afford me some peace.

    • Thanks, Dani. I’m glad you liked it. There are dozens more where this one came from – it’s how I live my life! The moments of learning may be subtle and they don’t always leave me smiling, but they usually leave me serene or empowered. I’m not even sure for me it’s as simple as turning negatives into positives; the older I get, the more it’s feeling like learning to love the learning. One of my favourite living prayers is the Serenity Prayer by Rheinhold H. Niebuhr

      God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
      courage to change the things I can,
      and wisdom to know the difference.

  5. Hi Janice,

    Interesting to know that people in the UK dread jury duty as much as Americans do. Your list of benefits of being called in to serve are awesome.

    One thing that came to mind when I read your post is how long the lines were to vote when South Africa opened voting to all. That was back in the nineties and in America (at that time), many people took that right for granted and I have even heard people say that they do not want to vote for fear of jury duty.

    When we had our election this past November, we had long lines too and it was wonderful to see so many people. People were having fun in line and talking to one another. There was such optimism that day, it was great to be a part of it.

    Being able to vote is a great gift…even if you have to be a juror at one point or another. 🙂
    .-= Nadia – Happy Lotus´s last blog ..Spiritual Warriors: My Interview with Jsu Garcia =-.

  6. Hi Nadia,
    I couldn’t agree more. It makes me so sad to hear of young people so disillusioned by petty party politics and the sleasy personalities of those who abuse the media exposure and get caught out as frauds, crooks and idiots that they forget what a gift it is to be able to vote safely.

    I specialised in Commonwealth Literature at university and it deepened my understanding of the freedoms I took for granted. Being a rebellious teenager, I was also inspired by the stories of the suffragettes’ struggle for votes for women, the deaths, torture and force-feeding in a seemingly developed nation.

    I think TV shows about jury duty in America may have heightened my fear. Before my second call to jury duty, I read a Grisham book that didn’t make it seem like a very life enhancing proposition…

    • I don’t suppose there’s anything wrong with laughing about it as long as you gauge how your friends and their families might have been affected by their ‘tour of duty’ and you take it seriously when you’re in there, which I know you would. 😉

  7. Thanks, Tess. I’m not nearly as bad as I used to be! That’s one of the advantages of age; I can look back and separate the catastrophising from the ‘just in case’ planning, and see that most of what we fear doesn’t happen. I’ve also learned that I can survive most things intact.

  8. Hi Janice .. I must say I always wondered why Inever got called – perhaps because I lived in SA for 14 years .. but who knows .. and have always thought if it happens I’d deal with it at the time. However I see and admire the preparation you put in .. the thoughts that cleared your head for the day. It’s good to be prepared in case and that’s what you did .. that’s a really well set out explanation ..

    Thanks – Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters
    .-= Hilary´s last blog ..Champagne fruit … anyone? =-.

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