Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Madam Foreperson Or Learning to Lead
I expected jury duty to be a learning experience. What I didn't expect was that it would force me to take a look at myself.
Why did I even agree to do it? I had a feeling that I owed it to society, that I'd been able to skip it all my life for legitimate reasons, but those reasons were gone. So I was being "good".
That immediately put me in conflict with my sense of obligation to my employer, knowing that missing two days of work every week for eight weeks was going to create some headaches for people already juggling as hard as they can. If I missed work, if I was "good", I was going to be "bad."
Uh oh. The conflict's already in full swing.
Fast forward to the day the jury is selected. I'm in. Now I'm stuck. And then the judge flips through the cards and selects the people who'll be "in charge" - quotes around those two words, please.
I hear my name. "Would you be willing to be the foreperson?" As my brain locks down in complete shock, I hear myself agree.
Foreperson? I'm going to be in charge?
I'm perfectly comfortable being in charge: I've raised two children, I've taught school, I've run committees. But give me half an opportunity and I'll gladly sit back and let someone else run the show. I'm perfectly okay with being part of the group.
But I've just agreed to be foreperson, which implies a responsibility for moving a discussion along, for making sure deliberations are efficient and complete, for making sure everyone who wants to speak, can.
That little inner show off who thinks she can do it better than everyone has just smacked the humble, self-effacing worker bee right out of the room.
It's been an interesting look at myself, this jury duty assignment. I've had to admit that my self-doubts were unfounded; all the jurors seem very happy with the way things are being done. We've had productive, efficient deliberations and it's been done in a respectful, open-minded atmosphere. That's due far more to the 22 other people on this jury than to anything the foreperson is doing.
I've had to confront my own lingering adolescent problems with authority, I've had to question that authority when it seemed to be overstepping its bounds. I've found myself questioning my reactions to witnesses, noticing when I was relating rather than listening, or simply listening when I should be trying to relate.
I've seen worlds within my world, cultures that I don't live in, environments that create problems that seem inescapable. And it's changing the way I see some of the stories I cover.
Jury duty - that little summons form is nuisance mail that most of us wish we'd never see. But after a couple of weeks, I am forced to admit that it's a fascinating experience on many, many levels. If you let it, it can give you insight into far more than just the criminal justice system.