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The Court of Public Opinion

January 24, 2015 by in category Blogs with 0 and 0
Home > Writing > Blogs > The Court of Public Opinion

I learned one thing when I served on a jury.

Well, in fairness, I learned more than one thing, but one thing really did stand out, and I’ve never forgotten it.  

Perhaps because it was so obvious.  Perhaps because at the time the people I shared my revelation with felt that it should hardly have been a revelation.  And perhaps it shouldn’t have been.  But OMG it is something I truly wish everyone actually felt was not only obvious, but something they should live by on a daily basis.

My particular case was excruciatingly boring and interminable (yes, even the Judge went to sleep once), but the experience truly reinforced the home truth: 

Don’t judge before you have heard both sides. Really.  Don’t.

Now in life, you often don’t have the opportunity to hear both sides.  

So pop quiz: what shouldn’t you do?  

Correct: don’t come down on a final judgement.  

Sure you can have an opinion, but acknowledge that you’re shooting from the hip and your aim and accuracy will suffer for it.

Of course, it is fun to judge others—it can be enormously satisfying and quite entertaining—but not if you start to take yourself and the numerous equally uninformed others seriously.  If you plan to make a serious judgment you have to investigate all sides and unemotionally do your homework. And it’s hardly reasonable to take other opinions seriously unless they’ve listened to all sides and done their homework, right? But reason doesn’t seem to have much cachet right now.

A favorite childhood tale was a friend who had a somewhat…difficult relationship with her older brother.  Her favorite method of pulling his chain was to wallop him, then shout, “Mommy, Johnny’s hitting me!!!!” Mom would, naturally arrive just in time to see with her own eyes Johnny retaliating, and send him off, no excuses.  Eyewitness account!

Our judge instructed us in our role as a jury, noting that it was up to us to discern the truth from the information we were given.  “Ask yourself,” he requested, “why someone is saying something.  Figure out what their motives might be, what the repercussions might be, and assess the information accordingly.” (Like: will it sell more papers? Get hits? Go viral? Make me famous? Yes? Think about it.)

Good advice.

But in this self-obsessed, self-revelatory, boundary-less world of private/public yammering, everyone is a self-anointed judge, jury and executioner.  That is until someone points out the accused wasn’t even there, or the visuals were utterly misinterpreted, or the victim was actually the perpetrator—or vice versa.  Oops!

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. [Matthew 7:1-2]

I appreciate the power of stories, books, films—whatever—to put us in the shoes of those pilloried by public opinion.  And, I hope, offer us some insight and restraint in controlling our own often irrational and thoughtless behavior.  

Bullying isn’t just the province of the young.

Isabel Swift

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