November 09, 2009

Speaking the Truth (A Story of a Jury Summons)

I was summoned for jury duty in San Francisco. It was a very interesting experience, even though I was dismissed as a juror. This was my first time being summoned since a summer when I was in college. If you've ever been summoned for jury duty, then you know that you congregate in the jury duty room with a couple hundred other people and then you sit and wait. The vibe of the room reminds me of a library because everyone is pretty quiet. There are, of course, many different kinds of people summoned, since it is random selection. You have old and young, rich and poor, professionals and non-professionals, minorities and majorities, etc. I sat in the back of the room at one of the tables because it was close to the windows. Several people took out their laptops and used the free wireless to do work. One older, Asian man in a suit, with a moustache and thick, crazy hair was sitting across from me and was texting or sending emails on his cell phone. Beep, beep, beep, pause, beep, beep, beep. It beeped for every keystroke he entered. Another man, possibly in his early forties sat down a couple seats from him. He looked at the older man, clearly annoyed because of the constant stream of beeping. A few other people glanced in the older man's direction, looking a little irritated. I was sure the older man had no idea that his beeping was irritating others. But no one said anything to him. I found the beeping ignorable, but I could see how other might find it irritating. The older man did not seem unapproachable and I felt pretty sure that if you brought to his attention that his beeping was annoying he would have apologized and disabled the sound on his cell phone and then continued texting. But no one said anything. They sat there and got more and more annoyed. I found this rather interesting. Here is a man, unaware that he is being annoying, radiating an accommodating nature, and still, no one says anything. I thought about saying something on behalf of the annoyed but decided against it, partly because I was interested in seeing what would happen and partly because I expected them to speak up on their own behalf. This never did happen.

On the other side of the table next to mine, a woman named, Candace (I later learned her name when her name was called for dismissal), got out her laptop and tried to log on to her company's network. She started making work related phone called using her cell phone with the earpiece plugged in. Candace was middle aged, Asian (she had no accent) and fairly attractive. Whatever she was doing, she seemed to go about it like it was very important, you could tell by her body language and tone of voice. She radiated inflexibility, anger and self-importance.

I noticed the irritated man in his early forties looked around him often. Every time someone talked on their cell phone or turned on their computer (in which we were all treated to the Microsoft Windows start up music) or rustled papers loudly or grumbled to themselves he looked irritated. Then he would look around to see if anyone else was irritated too. He rolled his eyes a couple of times and then would fidget. He was casually but stylishly dressed and he had very pink skin. He radiated complaining and judgement, but all-in-all he didn't seem like an overly angry person.

The man to my left was an older white guy in jeans and a button up shirt who radiated some worry, concern and slight edginess. I inadvertently saw later, on his request for dismissal, that he was caring for his elderly mother. He had also packed his lunch. He had no fancy, keep-you-occupied gadgets like a computer, iPhone or other fancy cell phone. Besides his lunch he had only a plastic sleeve of papers, his jury summons and a magazine about communications.

The man on my right was also an older man with wavy, thinning hair and glasses. He had a magazine and a bike helmet and had obviously used his bicycle to get to the court house. Occasionally he talked to himself and seemed a little like the absent-minded professor. From time-to-time he would look up, distracted by beeping or noises, shake his head with bewilderment and resume his magazine reading. Sometimes he would even laugh a little to himself and shake his head. Overall he seemed rather good-natured and did not seem to mind being there to serve his civic duty.

An announcement was made that they were going to show us a video about our summons for jury duty. People started putting away their electronic devices, cell phones and computers. But not Candace. She continued her cell conversation. The video started. I could not hear the video over her talking. I could tell other people also could not hear because they kept glancing at her and some made faces. Finally, when it seemed her conversation had no end in sight, I leaned over to her and said quietly, as nicely as I could, "I know you are trying to keep your voice low, but we can't hear the video when you are talking on your cell phone." Her eyes narrowed, her lips curled and in a viciousness befitting a parent protecting their only child who had just been threatened with severe bodily harm, she said slowly, "I'm...almost...done."

Bloody hell. Admittedly, I was shocked by her hardened hatred. If she could have slapped me without drawing attention to herself I do not doubt that she would have. I was really startled by her madness. There was a danger in it that extended far beyond me, but to everyone that unfortunately had to come in contact with her. She was spreading hatred and anger like an extremely infectious disease. I sat down. I considered going up to the front and asking them to pause the video until she was done on the phone. I did not think this out of revenge but simply out of practicality. I needed to hear the video. The court needed us to hear the video. I was being prevented from doing this, so I needed to take responsibility and do something more about it. The nice way had not worked. I was not angry, but still a little shocked. This is madness. People sit here and see dysfunction all around them. It can be prevented, it can be treated, it can be dealt with but we DON'T DO ANYTHING. So those who are the loudest, most obnoxious and inconsiderate end up "running" the world we live in. Surely not all true leaders are like that, but it is not them that I am talking about, it is the bullies of the world. We can not ask them to play nice. We need to tell them. We need to do this because it is spreading insanity in this world and not doing anything about it is JUST AS INSANE. I did not criticize Candace, I simply spoke the truth. In her mind, continuing her phone conversation was more important than the ability to hear for a dozen or so people around her. If she were having an emergency (clearly, she was not) then it would be different. But of course, these things are reasonable. Where does this dysfunction come from? This worries me. We all need to do our part. Like children that need to be taught hard lessons, sometimes with necessary suffering, they learn extremely valuable and important lessons that make them better people and eventually enrich their life. We all know this. We can not ignore it. If we do, then we are potentially more insane. It is not about going to war or getting revenge or even defending the truth. It is about knowing the truth and then speaking it. The evolution of mankind depends on it.

I was still considering going up to the front and asking them to pause the video when Candace ended her phone conversation about five minutes later. Eventually she was dismissed from jury duty, as was I, as was the man caring for his mother. The rest continued on to the jury selection. When I left the jury waiting room, I asked if I could make a suggestion. The man seemed quite happy to hand me an official suggestion form. I filled it out requesting that in the future, before playing the jury video, they ask everyone to discontinue phone conversations for the duration of the video, so that everyone can hear. I am not so shocked by Candace anymore, just a little sad. I am not sad about her overwhelming hatred and bitterness but more so about the inability of so many to do something about it.

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