Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Jury Duty

Often we get stuck in our own little bubble. We go about life doing all the things that we think matter, the things we need to do, the things that give us pleasure. But do we think about how the things we do affects the others around us?

I got called to jury duty. Yes, it was my first jury summons, and I ended up sitting as one of the six jurors. It was a fascinating experience. The judge was both stern and understanding (and really cool). The district attorney tried the case like she was on a TV drama. And I had the privilege of working with five other first-time jurors of various ages and backgrounds who were all very nice and concerned about making the right decision.

But while I understood the scope of what I was doing, it was right when I was about to check the 'guilty' box on the verdict sheet that it really hit me what an impact I was making. My simple 'X' was going to have lasting consequences on the life of this person. Because of the decision I made along with my colleagues, this man would have to serve punishment for a crime.

Now, as in any serious matter, my natural reaction is to pretend the concern doesn't exist. It isn't a happy thought, and it's comfortable to live in blissful ignorance. But the reality is, I made a decision that affects a man's life in an unfortunate way. Although (according to our deliberation) he deserved it, the fact remains that his future won't be the same because of my actions.

Jury duty provides a very clear and undeniable example of how my actions impact others. But actually every single decision we make affects other people's lives. If I walk down the street and smile at a passing stranger, I have altered the course of that person's life. It may seem inconsequential, but what if that person was having a rough day? What if I was the first person to even acknowledge her existence that day? Even if she thought I was a creeper and turned just slightly, this has made an impact. As an example, imagine we were walking through an open field where there were no buildings or obstructions of any kind. Say my awkward smile caused the person to turn three degrees (out of 360; remember geometry class?). It may not seem like a lot, but if that person walked for another one mile in a straight line, she would end up 277 feet away from where she would have been had I not smiled at her. That's more than one standard city block.

So this is why we need to consider how our actions affect others. We have little control over most of our actions' consequences, but there are plenty of opportunities to really consider the impact our decisions make. Should I go hang out with that friend tonight? Should I do what my mom asks me to do immediately or put it off? Should I be rude to my boss today, even if he's been rude to me? Fill in the blank. Just don't wait for jury duty to consider how your actions affect others. It may literally mean life or death.

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