A Little Perspective
Although I didn’t attend Romance Writers of America’s national conference in San Antonio this summer, I did pick up a gem on RWA’s Published Author Network loop in the form of a book recommendation, Wired For Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence, by Lisa Cron. To non-writers, this may sound as entertaining as watching paint dry, but to those of us who write for a living, this book is pure gold.
I’m especially enjoying this book after my recent jury duty summons. Jury duty–while tedious and annoying–and my subsequent service as a juror on a one-day trial, provided a vivid example of how background and perspective matter.
It was a cut-and-dried DUI case. At 2:30 in the morning, the defendant ran two red lights, and was observed by two separate police officers exceeding the speed limit by at minimum twenty five miles per hour. The cops pulled him over, called in a DUI specialist, and charged him with DUI after he failed two out of three field sobriety tests while refusing to take the third. He also refused a breathalyzer and blood test. Cut. And. Dried. Guilty!
All three cops testified. One couldn’t identify the defendant because the case was over three years old (understandable), and all three presented very compelling, very damming evidence against the defendant. With every second that crept by, with every dramatic exhalation of breath by the defendant’s attorney, my irritation grew. Guilty, people! What a waste of our time and taxpayer money.
As the six men and women of the jury convened in the deliberation room, I assumed we’d be out of there within minutes. Surely everyone could see he was guilty. But…I forgot about perspective. I forgot that people view everything through the lens of their own reality.
The two most glaring examples came from a woman with grown children and a history of alcoholism who’d had several runs-ins with police, and another guy with a pending DUI case (I still can’t believe he was picked for the jury). Despite expert testimony by three officers of the law, these two jurors interpreted everything the cops said as though they were lying and out to get the defendant. By the time I snapped out of my shock from hearing the woman say, “Cops are dirty,” I began to look at the entire jury duty experience as a fascinating illustration of what Lisa Cron writes about in her book: the irresponsibility of assuming everyone views life the same.
I suppose the bigger question is why, after almost forty-five years on the planet, I still need this kind of glaring reminder that people are different. Don’t I experience the differences every day on Facebook (especially in the much-hated political rants)? Apparently I did need a reminder. Because apparently I’m as typical and average as the next person. Every time I think back to that day spent serving on the jury I shake my head. It was as fascinating as it was frustrating, and hopefully I’ll be a better writer because of it. What do you think?