Monday, July 14, 2008

Civic Dilemma

Earlier this year Smith was called to jury duty, his first time ever, and was chosen to serve for a rather gruesome trial. While the details of the trail were hard to bear, he felt very strongly that it was important that he was there. It was a difficult time to be supportive as we couldn't discuss anything about what was going on, but I just watched him struggle with it by himself. As he described it afterwards, I was struck by how fair he seemed to be - weighing both sides, playing devil's advocate - even as the evidence piled up he continued to ask, "what if?" to fully explore both sides. To make sure. As one is, in theory, supposed to do. He struck me as a model juror. Would the rest of us do the same in the same situation I wondered? Would I?

I was also struck by the number of people who of talked ways of getting out of jury duty. A select few thanked Smith for his "duty." It seemed odd at first to be thanked for such, but I later learned that most of the thanks came from those who had either served themselves or had been somehow associated with a jury trial. It made me think about "civic duty" a bit more.

What does civic duty mean? To me it is the duty of a citizen to its country. And so, on a day to day basis, what duty do I actively perform FOR my country? Seemingly none. Yes. I pay taxes. But we all do that and it really doesn't require effort per se. Yes, I vote, but that is more in my own best interest isn't it? Jury duty seems like a small civic contribution.

Today was my turn for my civic duty. And although Smith talked about his experience in detail, I really had no idea of what to expect. I was a little excited and but also given Smith's experience, a little daunted. How would I feel judging the guilt or innocence of someone else? What kind of case would it end up being? The only trials I'd been remotely associated with were 1) a murder trail of a friend 2) the burglary trial of the serial rapist who broke into my apartment the night I had (thankfully!!! thank you again Kara Jo!) spent at a friend's house 3) the trial Smith was part of.

Out of 80 people, Smith was one of the 6 jury selected. I was up against 29 other people and I had a lot of time to study each of them, because as anyone who has been to jury selection knows, there is a lot of sitting and waiting. I was paying particular attention to how everyone was dressed, because I hate to admit after that lofty minded intro above, I didn't know what to wear. Seriously. Because when do I have to go out of the house in something other than a tank shirt and some capris? I was just thankful that I could find my "dress" shoes. However, the first outfit I chose was greeted by a strange look by my eldest who tentatively asked: "why are you wearing clothes like that mommy?" My spouse cautiously, very carefully, asked if the pants used to belong to my mother and then suggested maybe I should try a dress instead. (don't get me started on the dress...)

I know the "business end" of my wardrobe is sorely neglected. I could carbon date some of it -- including one blouse that still has the original banana republic logo in it, you know, when they were still pushing the safari theme? I'm just plain shocked that this stuff even fit. It's not like that aspect of my wardrobe was ever very full either. When I was working in an office, eccentric ensembles were pretty much expected. Gypsy skirt? Check! Hose? Not so much. So my dilemma, coupled with my son's query, made me stop to think more seriously about "why am I dressed like this?"

Why am I dressed like this? What part of me shapes how I think I'm supposed to be dressed to be in court? (or at the grocery store for that matter.) How few places in life is there a social dress code, as it were, and is it a sign of something better or lessor that our culture seems to be giving it up? Because based on my observations today, we are certainly giving it up. Am I that out of touch? Or am I just old fashioned to think that "Sunday clothes" would be the thing to wear? Am I being elitist here too? What is the idea behind dress clothes in the first place - is wearing them just to show one's position/who you are? or is it meant to show a sign of respect for others?

Overall, jury selection was fine. I wasn't chosen and I was probably over dressed. But in truth I didn't mind. It still seemed to be what I should be wearing to perform my civic duty. Part of me does wonder though, if I would have been better prepared for the question that was finally posed to me if I was in my prahnas and my birks. While my compatriots were asked such head-scratchers as

"Have you ever seen a person that you thought to be intoxicated and could you describe your experience?"

I get asked: "What does beyond a reasonable doubt mean to you?"

Let's just say that my answer was not blog worthy. I'm not a thinker on my feet, no matter the shoes.


Sinda said...

Any time you want to trade wardrobes, let me know...I get tired of buying the practical stuff and not the fun stuff. Which reminds me, what are you doing Friday AM? Can you get a sitter/husband? Want to come to the Nordstrom's sale with me? I'll call you!

peevish said...

Your indecision over what to wear to court reminded me of a David Sedaris story I read where he describes being in court for a murder case and the defendant's mother chose her wardrobe not-so carefully: cut-off jeans and a Ghostbusters t-shirt. He wonders "What would she consider a dress-up occasion?

Also: you mentioned the murder trial of a friend? OMG! How awful!

Jesse said...

I onece had to go to court to take care of a ticket, and was thrown out by the judge for wearing shorts (they weren't even cut-offs!). She made me read the rules of dress in fine print on the back of my ticket out loud to the entire courtroom. At the time I was embarrassed and angry.

In retrospect, I understand the idea (though not how she chose to enforce it), and I do think that the style of your dress can communicate respect (for a place and the work done there). While I'm not always comfortable in "dress" clothes, I do believe that we probably don't dress up enough in our society.

Does that sound conservative?

peevish said...

Jesse: I agree completely. While it is nice to be comfortable in most situations, when things get serious I think a little itchy starch around your collar makes you sit up straighter and pay attention. So to speak. Also, being noticeably under-dressed can feel pretty uncomfortable.