Twelve Plus Two

Courtroom 01A dreaded jury summons came with the bills and adverts for the Land’s End sale.  Pangs of guilt also came because jury service should be an honor rather than a nuisance – a privilege of living in a democratic society.

The badge number is sixteen-0-two.  From now on four digits are our names to preserve anonymity.  Names get changed a second time after the panel is seated.  Only one or two digits now – one through fourteen.

At least a hundred people crowd into the jury pool room in order to have a panel of twelve with two alternates.  Like a big sieve, the system begins to sort out ineligible people.  Some will lose self-employment income if they serve.  Others have a loved-one who depends on their care giving.  “You’re dismissed.”

Seventy remaining crowd into one of the courtrooms to fill out a long questionnaire.  What is your occupation?  How much education do you have?  Like ever smaller holes in a coin sorter, the number of eligible jurors tumbling to the next level grows smaller.

A week later the last filter is applied to the group – the attorneys.  “What would you do if….”  “Give me an example of when you…..”  “Is there anything that might disqualify you for this trial?”  Attorneys make mental notes of what they like and don’t like about each juror.

Three times new potential jurors were called up.  Thirty in all to make a panel of twelve plus two.  Defense rejects more jurors than prosecution rejects.  The judge finally announces “We now have our panel.  The rest of you are dismissed; thank you for your service today.”

Jury service is a microcosm of our good society.  The coin-sorter of talents, education, accumulated wisdom, and experience variously qualify us to serve our world.  None of us are universally appropriate for every task (or jury) but rather bring select abilities to the task at hand.

Like a jury, as well, is the fact that without volunteers the work does not get done.  Elections couldn’t happen.  The hungry wouldn’t be fed.  The naked wouldn’t be clothed.  And a host of other tasks wouldn’t be done.  Societies work best when people show up – like in a big jury pool room.  We each get sorted out to do our special job, and a beautiful society gets created.

In his 1961 inaugural speech John F. Kennedy stunned our country with the now memorable words, “…my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”  That can be jury duty or helping out a neighbor.

Woody Allen once said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”  So when the jury summons comes in the mail, show up proudly.  It is a small contribution to the improvement of our world, and you will be doing something for your country.