COLUMNS

Lessons from a juror

Stephanie Ziebarth

Earlier this week, I experienced jury duty. What an opportunity! I learned a great deal on many different levels.

My fellow jurors and I heard a complex case. Actually, we probably made it more complex than the prosecutors and judges expected, because we were deliberating later than it seemed the staff anticipated.

One of the many lessons that stood out to me was this: Every decision we make matters. Those small decisions in our daily lives add up to our character, our reputation, our lifestyle.

Neither the victim nor the defendant in the criminal case we heard was a model citizen. They were Greencastle neighbors who provoked each other until the proverbial kettle boiled over and one man attacked the other with a deadly weapon.

Some of our deliberations came down to credibility (we were carefully instructed in this by the judge). Each man and each witness's character was assessed, including decisions they've made, company they've kept, and motives.

There were no winners anywhere in this case.

I thought about myself, my children, the students I help lead at Joy El (www.joyelgeneration.org). I thought about the decisions we're making and the examples we're setting.

And I thought a lot about healthy conflict resolution.

There is a diverse group of people in my neighborhood: single moms, animal welfare advocates, blended families, retired couples, divorcees, empty nesters, religious families. And I thank God that we all get along.

We are not perfect. I have had to talk to loud teenagers about turning off their music at 3 AM. Neighbors with impeccable yards have to overlook mine when I get behind. Once, an errant child scratched pictures onto the side of our car.

We still choose to get along.

Sadly, the victim and defendant in the criminal case this week did not. Their resentments simmered. They pounded on walls and ceilings instead of having civil conversations. And when he could take it no more, the victim went downstairs and pounded on the defendant's door. Instead of asking kindly for the neighbor to turn down the music, he expressed his frustrations in a colorful and angry way. And things escalated from there.

One man ended up in the hospital. Both men ended up in court.

So, consider the kind of life you're leading. Be kind to your neighbors. And when you have the choice between exacerbation and conflict resolution, work toward peace.