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  • Susan Eaton

What I Learned from Jury Duty (or What it Means to Lead with Compassion)

Several weeks ago I opened my mailbox and saw a letter addressed to me from the Circuit Court in Lamar County. “Oh no.” I thought. “This is going to be a jury duty summons.” I promptly whined and rolled my eyes a little bit and held my breath while I opened the envelope. Yep. I was right. Jury duty. 

I showed up this past week and was selected to be one of the twelve who sat on the jury to hear a very difficult case. The trial lasted three days, and I believe that ultimately we, the jury, came to the right verdict.

It turned out to be a good experience and one that reminded me of something very important that I need to exercise more of in my relationships with others. And I also believe, that if we could all grow in this area—even a little bit—our world would be a better place. What is that one thing? 

Always lead with compassion. 

In my treatment of others—in the way I talk to people, in the way I talk about people—I should always let compassion lead. What do I mean by that? Do I mean make all your decisions based on your feelings? Do I mean don’t think or use wisdom? Do I mean tell people things they want to hear and not what they don’t want to hear because that’s nicer?

No. Absolutely not. 

So what do I mean by leading with compassion?

Leading with compassion means I see another person—truly see them. It means that I try on some level to “get into their shoes”—to see life through their eyes—to see past the things that annoy me or frustrate me about their choices or behavior so that I can still see them and treat them as someone who is ultimately loved and cherished by God.

This is HARD. It’s hard on a good day—but it’s especially hard when I’m having a bad day or when I’m tired. But just because something is hard or challenging doesn’t mean that it’s okay to NOT lead with compassion when I’m with someone or when I’m talking about that person with others. 

Leading with compassion means I have the other person’s best interest at heart at all times. This is why having compassion for someone doesn’t mean that I tell them what they want to hear or give them what they want all the time. Sometimes what they want is not good for them. Having compassion for someone means I tell them what they need to hear, while understanding that that may be hard for them, and having the patience to allow that to be the case.

Leading with compassion means having empathy. It means that, on some level, I will allow my heart to break for another—maybe even to cry tears with them or for them. Having empathy slows me down a bit. It keeps me from breezing past others. It keeps me from quick judgments. I know I’m not the only one who has made quick, uninformed judgments about people I didn’t know, only to be proven wrong about them later. Sometimes I’ve been right! But that still doesn’t excuse me from leading with compassion.

Jesus always led with compassion. 

In every conversation with every type of person—the well-educated, the poor, the sick, the selfish, the prideful, the excuse-makers—with every person, Jesus led with compassion. 

Jesus was not one to tell people just what they wanted to hear. He definitely didn’t tell the Pharisees or other religious leaders what they wanted to hear, but he still led with compassion in all his scholarly and technical debates with them. He spoke the truth in love.

Jesus didn’t tell the “rich young ruler” what he wanted to hear when he said, “Go sell all your possessions and give your money to the poor. Then, come and follow me.” But it was what the man needed to hear. Jesus had the man’s best interest at heart.

Jesus met a lame man at the Pool of Bethesda who made a ton of excuses about why he was still paralyzed. When Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be healed?” the man made excuses. Everyone else got in the healing waters before he could. Nobody would help him. Jesus told him to get up, pick up his mat, and walk. Jesus didn’t roll his eyes at the man’s excuses. He offered him healing anyway. 

And, of course, the most obvious way Jesus led with compassion was through his sacrifice on the cross. He did what was best for us even though it was extremely difficult and painful for him. Because sometimes, indeed, leading with compassion means making some personal sacrifice on behalf of someone else.

I’m thankful for my opportunity to serve—even though I whined a bit. I’m thankful for the opportunity to be reminded that I need to lead with compassion. I am not going to get this right all the time. I know I’m not. But I’ll be asking God to give me His eyes and I believe I’ll be more aware of the people around me. I hope you will, too. 

And serve on jury duty when you get the chance! You’ll serve in a really important way for your community. And who knows, maybe God will teach you something about yourself in the process. 

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