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Simple Jury Persuasion: Human flaws bind us all

Thursday, November 19, 2009
posted by Douglas Keene

male mistakesI had the pleasure of seeing a wonderful comedian and storyteller—Mike Birbiglia—live in New York last year in a one-man show called “Sleepwalk With Me”, and again on a Comedy Central special several months ago.  The special, called “What I Should Have Said was Nothing” includes a socially painful but funny autobiographical story, to which the audience audibly moans in anticipation of what they could see was about to happen.

Mike (a really likable and sweet actor, and hopefully as nice a person as he is on stage), responds to the audience’s moan by saying “I know! I’m in the future, too!”  The irony of his reporting to the audience that he felt what the audience was feeling was both endearing and a joining experience.  We all loved him, even though we could see what a bad turn the story was about to take. His candor was as charming as his story was hilarious.

It brought to mind the truism that we don’t have to be perfect, we have to be honest.  Acknowledging errors, or focusing on the good intentions that resulted in our unintended gaffe, can be mitigating, if not the basis for forgiveness.

We have seen this in prominent public figures (insert your favorite infidelity headline here), who don’t get publicly hammered for the misconduct but for their clumsy and defensive management of inescapable truths (see the papers on our website on Apology and on Eliot Spitzer).  If a party hurts someone and hesitates to admit it, if they don’t share the moral reaction of the jury, they will be punished as an unrepentant reprobate.

Know how the story is felt, and acknowledge the feeling.

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