I had an interesting week a while back. I was impaneled on a jury for a criminal case, and was also selected as the forewoman for that jury. (Before you get too impressed, I was chosen at random).
Each of us on the jury listened intently to all of the evidence presented in the case. We also listened to the words of the judge. He continually stressed to us that in order to arrive at a guilty verdict, we had to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did indeed commit the crime for which he was accused. The judge went on to say that while most people know what beyond a reasonable doubt means, it is a difficult concept to actually explain.
Not surprisingly, my thoughts turned to obsessive-compulsive disorder. As we know, doubt is what fuels the fire of OCD, so much so that it is often known as the doubting disease. OCD sufferers need that certainty; they need to know they locked the door, or didn’t run someone over, or didn’t say the wrong thing. And if they’re not sure? Well, they’ll just check again. And so the vicious cycle begins.
I don’t have OCD, so this is not typically an issue for me. Sitting on that jury, however, with someone’s fate in my hands, I felt my palms start to sweat, and the weight of the world on my shoulders. How can I be sure?
Then it hit me. I can’t be sure. That’s why the judge didn’t say “you have to be sure.” Instead, he said we had to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.
There is very little we can be sure of in this world. Everything can be questioned. I assume the sun will rise tomorrow morning, but I don’t know that for sure.
In the end, our verdict was not guilty. While each one of us on the jury had a gut feeling the defendant committed the crime, there was just not enough evidence that allowed any of us to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.
I left the courthouse feeling uneasy, and only later realized why. Uncertainty. Did we make the right decision? How will I ever know….for sure?
And so, just as those with OCD learn to do through exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, I consciously chose to feel the anxiety (which eventually dissipated — it always does), accept the uncertainty of the situation, and go on with my life. Isn’t that all any of us can, and should, do?