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.