Earlier this week, I signed a piece of paper that had no effect on my life whatsoever. Yet, in doing so, I was truly affected. You see, signing that piece of paper had a massive effect on multiple lives. Particularly the life of the man that I, along with my fellow jurors, was sending to jail for the rest of his life. I have spent the past six weeks serving jury duty in a trial where two men were convicted of murder. A cold-blooded killing. And, while I learned a great deal more than I ever thought I could about gang culture, murder, cell phone data, and legal procedure, it was through the last few days of this service that I gained a very valuable lesson on perspective.
I’ve had many experiences in life where my eyes have been opened to the perspectives of others. Living in other countries and exposing one’s self to other cultures is key in understanding the thoughts and feelings of others. I have done a lot of this. And, as has been stated by many great people, there is no better way to gain empathy for others than by reading. See, through books, you are able to explore the world through more perspectives than with any other method. I definitely agree. And, in looking through my vast collection of books, one could assume that I have been exposed to a large amount of perspective. However, I would argue that another great way to gain understanding of another person’s thoughts, the way they see the world, is to be locked in a jury deliberation room with them to decide the fate of another human being.
When we entered deliberation, I truly believed that it was going to be a very quick process. I knew exactly what I believe the verdict should be, and thought it would be the same for everyone else. I soon realized this was not the case. It quickly became quite apparent that a single word in a legal declaration could mean such varying things to different people. Now, I have always been known to be quite strong-willed and opinionated (I would also argue that both nature and nurture fostered these qualities within me). But, it is amazing what can happen to the definitiveness of one’s feelings when a man’s life is literally on the line. Through the thoughts and understandings of my fellow jurors, my perspective shifted (At the same time, my frustration with the law increased, but that’s another story).
Each person comes into the deliberation room (or any life situation for that matter) with a different outlook on the world. They come with their own weights and burdens, each traveling to this particular point on separate paths. They come having noticed different things along the way and being affected by individual events in the proceedings. Each of us unloaded everything we had into that room and, together, we tried to put together the pieces to come up with a decision. It was, by far, the most stressful few days of my life. I didn’t sleep much and the lingering cold that came from this stress still remains. But I know, from it, I am a better person and a better writer. The trial itself opened my mind to the reasons people do what they do. The deliberation helped me better understand why people think what they think and feel what they feel. Being exposed to such different perspectives in such a high-stakes situation has helped me better understand the characters I am writing now and any that I will write in the future. And with that, I enter my next project with new perspective.