Wednesday, December 5, 2012

"Why would you want to do jury duty?!"

My sister was selected for jury duty a few weeks ago.  The case, it turns out, was going to be a massive one--one about companies withholding information on the risks of asbestos exposure.  Due to some improper questioning by a prosecuting attorney, my sister and a few other people, who were close to being the final jury members, were dismissed.  But the jury selection process itself lasted a couple weeks, and could have lasted potentially longer, followed by six weeks of testimony.  But that is besides the point.  My sister was going to be given a massive responsibility.  She could have been part of deciding whether there was corporate misinformation and whether workers deserved massive amounts of compensation for their mesothelioma.  And all anybody asked her was, "Why would you want to do jury duty?!"

We tend to think that we have a right to almost everything, and that if something goes wrong, it is someone, somewhere who is not doing their job.  All that we, as individuals, are responsible for are our lives, our paychecks, our homes.  We want the right to vote, but not the responsibility that comes with voting.  We want clean water to flow from our faucets, but not the responsibility to make sure that our water is not polluted.  We want free access to information, but not the responsibility of action that comes from knowing.

Our family watched Twelve Angry Men the other night, a tremendous movie from 1957, and what is depicted in that movie rings true to my sister's experience with the reactions she faced.  Jury duty is an inconvenience because "I'm going to miss the baseball game!" When it comes to a fair trial, being selected for jury duty is something that is an inconvenience.  How could anyone even suggest that jury duty is inconvenient?  As flawed as the legal and justice system is, isn't it our responsibility to make sure that we are ready to serve to make sure that people aren't wrongly convicted?  Now, people can have very important reasons why they would not want to do jury duty, especially if a day's labor is essential to feed your family.  But these are not the people that expressed their surprise that my sister was not lying to get out of jury duty.  No.  It was the well-off...and not just one person...several people.  Indeed, a quick search online will elucidate you on the thousand ways to get yourself out of jury duty.

We live in a world in which responsibility is so distributed that it is difficult to point fingers or make certain claims.  Is a particular chemical in his water that caused his cancer?  Is China causing climate change?  Not sure.  I mean, they are contributing heavily now, but what about all the decades and centuries of ecological degradation and greenhouse gas emissions caused by the America and the West?  Hmmm.  Let's avoid responsibility for that.

Responsibility ties in intimately to our daily choices, whether we agree to it or not.  Thinking that small things don't matter is, in essence, a shirking of personal responsibility.  What if we were responsible for our daily choices?  Not in the sense that one shouldn't do anything "illegal" so as to not get thrown into prison.  But I mean really responsible for every choice.  Is it responsible towards the Earth to want to be highly materialistic?  Is it responsible to my neighborhood to not get to know my neighbors?  Is it responsible of someone who is well off to lie just to get off of jury duty?  When we are all responsible, we have much to gain.  When we want our rights and act irresponsibly, we have much to lose.

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