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Lesson From the Jury Box

Serving as an alternate juror is one of life’s more frustrating exercises.  It’s all the inconvenience of attending the trial and none of the decision making.  In terms of actual hours worked, however, it’s an easy job:  arrive at 9:30, start working at 10 or 10:30, take a two hour lunch, and leave by 4:30. This schedule leaves plenty of room for deep thoughts. I even broke a longstanding policy and bought a pretentious Moleskin notebook because I wanted my deep thoughts to be important and stylish.

Deep thought number 1:  what do we miss by not paying attention?
Our judge instructed us not to take notes—we had to sit in the jury box without the aid of external mnemonic devices, which seemed like an impediment that could well lead to a travesty of justice.

I found the opposite to be true, though. When was the last time you sat in a room without phones, newspapers, iPods, or conversations and just actively listened? It’s the freedom to find the truth by not only listening but by studying clues like body language, demeanor, and facial expressions, which you can’t do when your head is buried in a notebook. There’s a place for conversations, questions, and notes, but it’s during deliberations, when twelve people bring their individual observations to the jury room and render a verdict.

Outside of the courtroom, we spend a lot of time and money to go places and do things, only to cheat ourselves by not paying attention.  It’s become more important to broadcast and perfectly capture our trips, conferences, and nights out than to live them. What contextual information do we miss when live-tweeting a keynote address?  How can we form mature, thoughtful, and independent judgments in a world of chatter and soundbytes? Information might be free, but knowledge and wisdom require a price, part of which is knowing when to listen.

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