I finished up my month of jury duty last fall. Yes, you read that right: a month of jury duty. As things settled back to my usual craziness, I decided that I was rather disturbed by my behavior.
I have spent the last fifteen or so years trying to become less critical. It took a few years of marriage for my husband to persuade me that what I thought was normal evaluation was actually insanely judgmental and rude. Chew with your mouth open? I noticed. Sit around chatting while everyone else cleaned up the ward dinner? Caught that, too. Didn’t use your car’s blinker? Did use poor grammar? Turned up in school with bizarre clothes, hairstyle, or shoes? I probably observed and silently noted it somewhere in my little mind, cataloging the myriad details which are useful to a writer creating characters, but are discourteous (at best) in real life.
As I said, I have spent years un-learning my critical nature. I have tried to stop noticing. Having rheumatoid arthritis helps: I wear my blue-and white tennis shoes with jeans, dresses, and black dress slacks because my feet hurt (not judging how anyone’s footwear matches his or her outfit recently), and I buy clothing based on ease of buttoning, pulling over my head, and looseness—comfort rather than style being my new mode of decision-making. I really have no idea anymore what is or is not in style, so I feel no urge to judge on that. When I notice a judgmental thought coming, I try to replace it with something positive or at least neutral (ie, I choose to believe that the person who cut me off in traffic is rushing to an emergency or that the person with wide-mouth mastication habits has a cold sore that makes eating awkward). I make a point to notice when I misjudge and ponder again how I rarely I know what I am talking about.
Given my efforts, what happened on jury duty was bizarre.
Was it because I haven’t been in a courtroom since high school “Court Day” that I felt the need to closely observe the room and people? I was nervous and interested in the process, so I paid attention to detail. Or perhaps it was because I knew I was there to judge a case that my critical nature re-asserted itself? Possibly true, though that doesn’t fully explain why I had wittily snotty nicknames for all the attorneys long before the voir dire was half-over. One glance was all it took to slap on labels they spent the next month trying (rather unsuccessfully) to live down. Sure, I didn’t know their names at that point, but labels? Really? Has the last decade meant nothing?
Apparently not. Because no detail was too small for me, and all were categorized and placed appropriately on my unwritten credibility chart. A doctor who dresses casually and chews gum on the witness stand? Not so credible. A nurse with stiletto heels and a skirt tight enough to trace underwear lines? Not sure I can believe her, either. A psychiatrist who turns and talks to the jurors intelligently not condescendingly? Nice. Plus points for him. Untied shoes, too-new suits, poor grammar, mocking tones, rolled eyes, talking over the judge, strange well-dressed man in the audience who sits on defendant’s “side,” nervous tics, ruffled papers, technology mishaps, aggressive questioning, slouching at the podium, low-cut blouses—I saw and pigeon-holed it all.
Well, not everything. It took a compatriot juror to tell me about what cars the plaintiffs and defendants drove, noting the inappropriate bumper stickers on one and her reluctance to believe testimony based upon it. Personally, I missed the parking lot connections completely. Cars aren’t really my thing, and I was trying to avoid courtroom people everywhere but inside the courtroom.
Strange as it sounds, I honestly did not notice the irony when I assigned my freshman writing class to read and discuss Flannery O’Connor’s “Revelation” with the substitute teacher while I was serving my jury duty. The arrogant Mrs. Turpin simply cannot see her own prideful and prejudiced state, and she needs a literal whack upside the head to knock some sense into her. When my students write their analysis papers on this essay, inevitably one has a Freudian slip and calls the main character Mrs. Turley instead of Mrs. Turpin for the whole essay. You would think I would see the obvious. Ouch.
Turnabout is fair play. Today I feel like I am on trial. A social worker is coming to visit our home to see how she can help my son, who was the victim of a fairly severe bullying incident at school. When she said she would like to visit us at home, I immediately thought that I had better clean. Then I thought that I had better not clean because the house would look too clean, and she would think I was OCD. I wondered what I should wear and whether to offer her something to drink or eat, and I reminded myself not to make silly jokes or get too quiet – both unfortunate habits I fall into when meeting new people. Then I told myself I was being ridiculous. She probably wouldn’t think about me at all.
But maybe she will. Maybe she’s judgmental like me. Ouch.