Are You Guilty of Not Listening?

What “The Jury: Murder Trial” can teach us about the importance of listening.

Key points:

  • We may think we understand people better when we can identify with their experience.
  • But our similar experience stops us hearing their experience.
  • Similar experiences can have entirely different backgrounds, expressions or meanings for different people.
  • We need to learn to listen.

There was quite a ripple last month about the Channel 4 programme The Jury: murder trial, in which two groups of 12 ‘random’ people were brought together to re-consider evidence from a genuine trial, the exact transcript from which was portrayed by actors. There was no dispute that the defendant had brought about the victim’s death through hammer blows to the head. But should the verdict be murder or manslaughter?

The two ‘juries’, who didn’t know about each other’s existence till the end, were seen discussing the case in their group or talking individually to camera about their positions. The ‘point’ was to see if two juries, simultaneously presented with the same evidence, would necessarily come to the same verdict – and, if not, what did this say about the safety of the UK jury system?

I was more interested in what it showed about the safety of how individuals reach their views. Some properly connected with what they were hearing in ‘court’ only when they found that they could identify personally with something they learned. Two women who had suffered abuse in childhood or adult relationships strongly felt that nothing the victim had done to antagonise the defendant could ever justify his actions; another ‘understood’ the defendant when she learned that he, like herself, had been subjected to hurtful personal insults; a man, unwillingly separated from his children, did not want the defendant’s children to be without their dad for a long time because of a sentence for murder.

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