Jury selection was surprisingly swift. The judge and lawyers conducted voir dire, I was seated in the jury box, and the criminal trial commenced. For the next week, I would hear the case and deliberate with my fellow citizens to reach a verdict. A verdict that required the consensus of 12 citizens.
I’ll admit, it wasn’t easy to set aside everything at work for jury duty. But as the deliberations progressed, I began to see this moment as much an opportunity for reflection as it was a civic responsibility. I couldn’t help but compare my experience in the jury room to our larger civic situation.
Think about the conversations we’re having as a society on how to prepare our communities, our infrastructure and our workforce for the future. Social media has created a global town square where everyone has a voice. In this space, we can each present our case and then others can cast their judgment, on any given topic. The dialogue is noisy, and you might conclude we are deeply divided and can no longer reason with one another.
The same conclusion might have been made as our jury began deliberations on the legal case before us. All of us had heard the same testimony, had seen the same evidence and had heard the same instructions from the judge. And yet, when we retired to the jury room, we had vastly different views.
Our own beliefs and experiences had led us to strong conclusions of “absolutely” or “positively not” when it came to the question of guilt. At the end of our first deliberation day, I feared we wouldn’t be able to reach the consensus required to render a verdict.
But we forged ahead for two more days. We reread the judge’s instructions and reviewed the evidence that had been presented to us in court. We explained our reasoning to one another, sometimes as a group or in smaller cohorts of two or three.
“Reason” became the key word in these discussions. None of us could force our decision on the others. Rather, we took the time to explain our “reason” for a guilty verdict or our “reason”-able doubt for a verdict of not guilty. And, one by one, we became convinced of what was the correct outcome.
Then we spoke with one voice as we rendered our verdict in court.
Jury duty offered me a close-up look at the power of the American justice system. But it also showed me something really powerful within it. I witnessed the strength that emerges from civil discourse. It was a reminder of how we each own the system – separately and together. Ultimately, each voice matters and helps us speak with one voice in our decision.
We didn’t resolve every issue before us. And it took time and effort to come to the agreements that we did reach. But twelve people, after carefully reviewing the law and examining evidence, delivered a verdict, one that had everyone’s support.
That should offer some encouragement as we navigate the conversations that surround us today. There’s merit to seeing the deliberations through and thinking about what we can create collectively, not just what we contribute individually. There’s strength in resolving how we want to move forward together.
So I’m encouraged about the potential we have to find the right outcomes. And I’m excited about how strong these outcomes will be because they came from a dialogue where different viewpoints were shared, respected and understood.