juries, verdicts, and owning ones' bias
this weeks’ pronouncement by the casey anthony jury, and the cultural response to it, has pushed a painful memory to the surface for me. in october of 1995 i became undone by the similarly surprising verdict rendered by the jury in the o.j. simpson trial. undone in a way i will likely never experience again and that is evident this week.
nearly eight weeks before the jury read “not guilty” into the microphones of more live broadcasting cameras than had ever been allowed in a courtroom, my husband’s sister and our three nieces had been shot and killed by her husband/their father. in what we believe to have been efforts to torture my mother in law, he had kept her alive and taunted her for forty five minutes prior to help arriving on the scene. prior to those forty five minutes he had fatally shot our five year old niece while she attempted to shield her.
in the weeks that passed between the quadruple homicide and o.j.’s indictment i found myself relying on the twelve jurors seated in the courtroom during his trial to mete out the judgement that i so wished for in our own story. my brother in law, a man present in my wedding and summer vacation photos, sat in a prison cell and showed up on our television screen saying crazy things about the incident. grand juries, phone calls from reporters, caring for my mother-in-law, and frequent visits to the district attorney’s office peppered my life between changing my newborn’s diapers and reading to my two year old.
when the announcement came that o.j. had been found not guilty i felt deeply and totally betrayed. i had placed my trust in these faceless fellow citizens of the earth. i was sure that MY deep belief that the defendant in their case had committed murder was a shared belief and i relied on their delivery of this news to both him and the world. for all of us who knew what it was like to lose a loved one at the hands of a known other, i wanted justice, felt i knew what that would look like, and assumed that my sense of this was a global one.
in the days since casey anthony’s jury delivered their verdict i have reminded myself time and time again that both of these juries were carefully instructed by respected judges, were working to do their jobs well and with intention, and that they had a more complete picture of the case and the facts than i ever will. i also have been working to keep conscious of the fact that i was not put on this earth to judge but rather to love and that my own particular bias’ may not allow me the most complicated forms of love or objectivity required in situations like these.
i keep landing there. my bias. i keep realizing, i am never free of it.
not long ago psychologically minded research teams found that human bias exists in nearly 100% of peoples’ beliefs. regardless of how strongly held these beliefs are or how central they are to a persons’ sense of self, it seems that bias impacts the shape and color that they take on in each of these. while this is an assumption we have all likely made, it has now been proven in black and white scientific terms.
where bias becomes an especially insidious issue is in myopic cultures such as our own in the west. when we are the centers of our own universes, when our individual needs and rights eclipse those of the community at large, when we feel as though we have a corner on the truth, we lose touch with the deepest reality that we all share. we are all human.
i recently expressed to someone that i don’t believe that our ideologies connect us. instead, i feel that our deepest, most intimate, shared “place” is found in our humanity. we are all human. we are all flawed. deeply so. while we may share certain beliefs, thoughts, and lifestyles with others, those things cannot assure certain connection between us in the ways we would like. these ideologies may make certain connections more comfortable. the friction and tension in our relational lives might be reduced by relating only with those we share a bias with and yet, there will likely be other bias’ that we don’t share with even these individuals.
reading the news stories today it is impossible not to notice that as immediate reactive anger with the jury calms the community turns readily to criticize the prosecutors. we, as a people, do not do well with sitting with discomfort. neither do we tolerate. the difficult truth is that we do not always know best. this makes us squirm.
until we are willing to assume that others (i.e.: the jurors, the prosecutors, our different-from-us neighbors) are trying their best, working hard to come up with verdicts that integrate the tasks given them and the information presented to them, we will likely approach the world in an us/them, my way/the wrong way reactive stance. such a stance leads to dissension, disappointment, and shallow relationship. it says that my bias is the best bias. it says that i know better than you...ALWAYS.
i am working hard to trust the findings of the 12 men and women who were handed casey anthony’s life. i am asking you all to hold me accountable to not blaming people for underperforming in jobs i know little about. i am similarly working diligently to be aware of my own bias’ and to engage with the bias’ of others rather than reject, dismiss, or discount them out of hand.
empathy blooms where differences live and where deep convictions of the heart can handle hearing the deep convictions of the heart of another. may we all engage each others’ humanity and from there move from myopia to community in its truest and richest forms where we may not all agree but at least we are all valued. of that pursuit i would like to be found guilty.