The Life Sentence or the Death Penalty

I have spent far more time on a jury than the average person. One time it was three weeks straight. Several other times around a week. Several other times I was just sitting in the jury pool waiting to see if they would need me (that was back when you went for a week, and were only released early if they knew no other jury would be needed.)

I’m always amazed at how many people do their best not to serve on a jury. We seem to love to judge each other from our armchairs. You would think people would love the opportunity to do it “for real”. Yes, I know there are times when the lack of income would be devastating (I believe payment was about a $12 a day last time I served), but most just seem like it would be a bother. And in some ways it is, but personally if I were ever on trial I would like someone like me on the jury. I will always try to serve when called. Though the three weeks in one swoop was a bit much (though it was incredibly dramatic and as the judge said to us afterward “Show me a movie, book, or TV show where you had more drama than what you have seen in the past few weeks.” He was right. We only missed the soundtrack.

But people screw up. We’re not perfect. There are days when we are insensitive. There are days we see overly sensitive. There are days when we are quick to be angry. There are days when we are passive-aggressive. There are days when we are self-centered. There are days we don’t notice you or we fail to include you. There are days when we are unkind. There are days when we do stupid and inconsiderate things. There are days when we are demeaning. There are days when we do not rise to your defense when others spread gossip about you. There are days we are disrespectful.

People get on my nerves. I suspect some days we may get on yours, too. When they do, I tend to pass judgment of them in my mind. But what kind of internal judge resides in there? Am I kind and merciful, or do I effectively give them a life sentence or the death penalty? Because of one silly thing, we can despise that person forever and ever, amen. (We usually do it with a certain amount of self-righteousness.)

When I look at my options for conviction, often they should be rather lenient. Why is it that I still often find I have given them a life sentence or the death penalty?

I’m certainly no Pollyanna. I do go through periods of time when I dislike people. I learned to ask myself the life sentence/death penalty question when I noticed other people holding long grudges towards people for reasons I found….well, silly. It made me start to examine how often I unintentionally did the same.

When I did Leadership Statesville years ago through the Statesville Chamber of Commerce we used to make a trip to Central Prison. I went there when I went through the program and then a couple of extra times when I served on the board (I found it fascinating). The first time I was floored to find the death row prisoners were not kept away from us….we mingled with them with no bars between us. Most seemed so young, yet they had committed heinous crimes. I will admit I struggle with the death penalty when I ask myself the question “Could I administer the lethal injection?” I feel I should be able to say yes if I believe in it that much.

But to never speak to someone again because they were rude to me? Because they threw a temper tantrum that seemed over the top and unnecessary? Because they failed to invite me to a party or snubbed me when they saw me out? My logical self doesn’t believe those acts should require such a harsh sentencing. Yet how come sometimes that is effectively how I respond?

This is not to say that there are some people I choose not to have in my life on a regular basis or spend time with. If you are rude to wait staff in a restaurant, I probably won’t choose to go out to meals with you again. If you have anger issues, I’m not going to hang around to give your anger an audience (unless I feel the need to stand close to make sure you are not abusive to another person or animal.) If you constantly rant on politics or religion or any issue for which you have closed the door on learning a new point of view, I’ll probably find you to be a bore quickly and will make my escape. Life is too short to listen to your diatribes. Even if I agree with you overall.

Of all of the wrongs done to me in my life, none have been death penalty crimes. Some particularly heinous things did seem like it for a season. But it’s much easier to live in a world where our mind is not the newest jail annex. Just maybe if we give people a chance at parole we will find that while they may have faults, they may also be delightful and able to teach us something. That’s been my experience. And I am so glad I backed off of my original sentence for them. The death penalty or life sentence just costs too much.

1 Comment

  1. A very insightful essay. I’ve certainly wished I’ll on those who’ve done me wrong, but it’s usually as a “heat of the moment” thing and as you point out, cooler heads lead to a change in our perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

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