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If children were jurors

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Somewhere along the way, too many people lose the power, wonder, dreams, honesty, innocence. optimism and joy of childhood. Too many people had such crappy childhoods — or perceive that they were crappy — that they have all the more trouble summoning back the power and joy of the child within. Too many people see themselves as closer to their own mortality than ever, not having achieved even a fraction of things they set out to do when much younger, and just detach themselves from so much in life.

As I have said many times before, eliminating fear, and being fulfilled and joyful, calls for summoning, keeping and tempering the fearlessness of one’s child within, filled with wonder and living in the moment, as detailed in the Zen story of the man and the two tigers: A man is chased in the wilderness by two tigers, only to be forced off a cliff, hanging for life from a vine. One tiger waits above and the other waits below for a human meal. Two field mice gnaw away at the vine. The man sees a wild strawberry growing from the side of a cliff, reaches for it, tastes it, and — with his life hanging in the balance — thinks of how delicious the strawberry tastes.

T’ai chi master Cheng Man Ching — whether speaking literally or figuratively — said that a baby laying in the wilderness cannot be harmed by a person’s spear or a tiger’s claw, because the baby knows no fear. Certainly, one finds greater strength by maintaining the fearlessness, joy, and wonder of a child; to do otherwise can be fatal.

On our juries we prefer people who will be fearless to speak their minds during deliberation, fearless to stand up to pressure and bullying from other jurors to avoid a mistrial, and fearless to stand up to their friends, families, co-workers, neighbors and everyone else who might challenge their vote on a jury.

I remember how fearless I was as a child, not particularly fearless about taking physical risks, but certainly fearless again and again to follow the beat of my own drummer. That continues right into today.

Having become a first-time father just shy of 43-years-old helps me continue summoning the power of my child within through my wonderful times with my son, who is almost five years old, and to continue having deep respect for people of all ages, refusing to think of children as immature, second class citizens that I too often heard growing up in variations of the claim that "children should be seen and not heard."

Frank Zappa is one of my inspirations for being a parent. In addition to having been an artistic genius who insisted on musical excellence over whatever sells the most, he apparently was a very caring parent. Zappa said: "The more boring a child is, the more the parents, when showing off the child, receive adulation for being good parents – because they have a tame child-creature in their house." His son Ahmet talks more here about Frank and Gail Zappa as parents. Like Zappa, I let my son call me by my first name, just as I call him by his.

Yesterday, I was reading a Scooby Doo book to my son at the bookstore, and a boy of around eighteen months from nearby walked right over to us and took in what we were doing. He was too young to have had any concerns about whether he would be welcomed into our circle, into which I welcomed him. Later on, while reading a Superman book to my boy, another child around three years old walked over, also fearless and curious about what we were doing.

As an amateur magician, I see how children of all ages (including adults) can be transfixed as I make balls multiply, change colors, disappear, and grow from adding water, and the look on their faces after I follow up Steve Martin’s tongue-pierces-napkin non-trick (with my mischievous glee at the thought of the children trying the same feat at home) by tearing up and restoring the same napkin. I recently reprised such feats at my son’s school after reading the students one of our favorite children’s books, The Monster Who Ate My Peas. The teacher emailed photos of my presentation, and I noticed how much more transfixed the children were on my magic than on my book reading. With the magic, I turned them all into participants more than I ever could have with the book, inviting them to blow on my hand to make it grow to three times the original size, and to make the torn napkin return to its pristine hole-lessness. Likewise, jurors need an opportunity to truly and meaningfully participate in the trial to hold their attention and investment in the trial.

Where I practice law, jurors from the get-go are drilled into a mood of just-business, move-it-along, courtroom augustness, and obey-and-respect-the-judge-or-else. The courtroom is serious and often windowless, claustrophobic and stuffy. The jury room is sparse. Jurors need permission to go to the bathroom, to get a snack, and to have a smoke (which no longer can be done in the jury room). I do not know of any jury rooms where the jurors take short breaks (underline short) to throw a nerf ball and spend time doing things having nothing to do with the trial, but they do have opportunities to summon the power and wonder of the children within them in ways that can help for a fairer verdict, and I am not talking about childish decisionmaking.

Trial lawyers can help jurors on the path to giving a confident and human face, heart and soul to their service and deliberations as jurors, and to take them away from facing the whole prospect as humanoids trying to tackle a fearsome project while they lose time and pay from work, childcare, personal and interpersonal problems, and essential errands.

Volumes and volumes can be written about what trial lawyers can do to help empower jurors to do the right thing as jurors. For today’s blog entry, I underline the importance of the magic mirror (jurors will not try any harder for a lawyer than the lawyer trusts the jury to accomplish), loving and doing unto jurors as to oneself, and finding a way to help jurors break through the tension, perceived monotony, and perceived boredom of being jurors, starting with lawyers breaking through their own tension (in part through being fully prepared, let alone through lifelong personal development), including through summoning the power and fearlessness of the child within.

And, of course, there is the compelling and riveting story for the trial lawyer to tell the jury throughout the jury, leaving the jury to finish the story through deliberations, hopefully delivering as much justice to the lawyer’s client as possible.

We need to spend plenty of time with children, including our own, and the children within us.