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Nothing has opened my mind more, or done more to help me overcome my judgmental nature, than to work for eleven years in the weight management field. I have been continually surprised by someone who I might have guessed was too old, or too large, or too carefree, or too [insert judgment here], to ever be successful. Again and again I have discovered in people reserves of strength, determination, vulnerability and intelligence that I might never have suspected. Those who don’t know me well often assume that my weight work causes me to have strong opinions about others, their food choices, their size, etc, when that just couldn’t be further from the truth.
At the beginning of this week, I was called for jury duty. I didn’t dread it the way most seem to do, although I wasn’t particularly thrilled either. I just assumed it would be another annoying, complicated, bureaucratic New York thing — like going to the DMV [god what a nightmare that was…], but I’d live.
The court where I reported serves the borough of Manhattan exclusively. I expected it would be a fairly diverse crowd, and it was. As we prospective jurors were put through the paces, I began to get a little impatient. People didn’t listen to the jury officer’s instructions, and many people did a variety of things to express their antipathy for being called to court that day. I was a little ticked off as we trudged from room to room to sit through the selection process, wishing that the people I was with would be a little more compliant, a little less difficult.
In the end, however, I was strangely won over. As a part of the screening process, the judge required each person to publicly respond to a series of basic definitional questions (What neighborhood do you live in? Do you have children? What kind of work do you do?). There were other, more difficult questions (Ever been a victim of a crime? Ever been arrested?).
Soon I discovered things that I wouldn’t have imagined. The pretty, polite young woman who’d been arrested for stealing. The angry woman who was unemployed and living with her mother, also unemployed. The old guy who moved to Greenwich Village in the 1970s to escape homophobia in his hometown and was now a successful businessman. The visual artist. The film maker. The school bus driver. The surgeon.
As we got into the 2nd day, my heart really opened up. I have to admit I got choked up listening to the cute filipino guy who doesn’t trust the police ever since they refused to help him when he tried to get away from his abusive boyfriend. The older woman with faltering English who, unlike every single other English-learner among the group, insisted that she would be perfectly happy to serve on the jury and follow the judge’s instructions.
It was amazing stuff.
And so, the next time you walk down the street and you see an overweight person, or you observe someone eating junk food, or you read about the obesity epidemic. Or you see the skinny guy and hate him because “he can eat anything he wants.” Just remember: you don’t know what you don’t know.
It sure took me long enough to figure this out.