A World of Grey (And, A Review Of ’12 Angry Men’)

Every human originates from a man and a woman.

Every human needs food, water, shelter, and love in order to survive.

We should be kind to one another, for the sake of others and ourselves.

Education is a good thing, as it serves the individual receiving it as well as the community of which that individual is a part.

Love is a good thing, both for the giver and the receiver.

. . .

I’ve just spent several minutes trying to come up with a few things that every person in the world can agree on. This very short list is what I came up with (yes, I’m sure there’s more).

However, even within each of these seemingly objective statements, there is already controversy.

Take this idea for example: “We should be kind to one another, for the sake of others and ourselves“.

On the surface, I don’t think many would object to this. Certainly, there are some who probably don’t care much about being kind to anyone (I doubt they would admit it, though), but the massive majority would agree wholeheartedly. However, dig just a little bit deeper, and you will find controversy. Ask the simple question – “Why do you believe that we should be kind to one another?” – and you are bound to find a multitude of answers, ranging from talk of the human spirit, to some ideas about the needs of the community outweighing the needs of the one, to something spiritual, such as “this is the way God intended”, or “this is how we were created”. All of these reasons carry some weight, but all of them are really very different, and probably at odds with one another, if we really press the issue.

This post is not about the issue of why we should be kind to another, but I think it does illustrate my point. And my point is, there is very little that everyone universally agrees on. In fact, it’s almost zero, and the spectrum is widening every day as perspectives continue to diverge.

And this begs the question, why is there so very little common ground that we can find with one another?

. . .

The movie 12 Angry Men (1957) is part of a very short list of movies that have a perfect score of 100% on various critic sites (such as rottentomatoes.com). It often shows up on lists with titles like “Movies you need to watch before you die“. So, I don’t feel that it would be of any value for me to rate the movie. What I will say is this: the movie achieves what it is trying to achieve, and does it so very well that it will stick with you long after you’re through watching it.

The movie takes place in just one location – in just one room, in fact. Twelve people serve as jurors in the case of a boy accused of murder. The victim is his very own father. The movie follows the conversation of the twelve men as they decide the boy’s fate.

As the movie begins, almost everyone is certain that the boy is guilty. They take a vote, and the vote is 11 to 1 in favor of a guilty verdict. The one man who votes ‘not guilty’ doesn’t seem to have very good evidence for his vote (at least not at first). He only says that it’s worth discussing and reviewing the evidence of the case before sending a young man off to die. He has no support for this, but the vote must be unanimous, and so everyone is forced to dredge up the facts of the case.

As the movie progresses and the facts are reviewed, what seems at first to be a solid case against the boy slowly becomes more and more flimsy. There is one testimony of an old man who claims to have seen the boy leave the apartment complex, but this evidence unravels as the men realize that the man couldn’t possibly have made it to his door in time to see the boy. We also learn of a woman who claims to have seen the boy murder his father, but again the men conclude that this woman couldn’t possibly have seen him clearly since she normally wears glasses, and wouldn’t have had them on since she was sleeping just prior to the event. Of course, every time someone brings up a new question, the angry men groan, arguing that it’s not worth digging things up – that the case should already be closed.

We slowly learn that each of the men have their own reasons for wanting to close the case and reach a verdict.

One man has tickets to a baseball game that night, and so just wants the whole thing to be over with as fast as possible.

Another man seems to just want to go along with the crowd.

One man is simply sifting through the facts as best he can, and later realizes that he didn’t think about them critically enough. He admits that he was wrong.

One man assumes the boy’s guilt just because he is from a poor slum area. It’s very obvious that he didn’t bother listening to the facts of the case.

The last man to change his vote is perhaps the most heartbreaking, and I think we are meant to have quit a bit of empathy for him. We learn very late in the movie that he has an estranged relationship with his son. It’s implied that there has even been physical conflict between the two in the past. The man is so hurt by the actions of his son – he feels that he’s now wasted his life by trying to provide for him, only for his son to reject him. For that reason, he has become blind to reason. He sees his son reflected in the boy on trial, and the anger in his heart burns against him.

. . .

In our own lives, we find some disturbing parallels to the trial of the young boy. I don’t think it’s unrealistic to think of ourselves as being on a jury, taking information and being asked to carefully evaluate it. The unfortunate fact of life is that we all have our own biases. The information we ingest is sifted and filtered based on the things we already know (or the things we think we already know) and a determination is made. Once we’ve made a decision on a particular topic, new information on that topic seems to be largely dismissed if it goes against our thinking, and largely believed if it supports our thinking.

. . .

Let me ask you something. If you were to take a step outside of yourself, which juror do you think you would be? The one who refuses to make a decision until there is a thorough study of the facts? The one who has already made a decision before hearing any facts? The one who ignores everything and goes with the majority because he might be late for his baseball game?

If we really, honestly evaluate what we think we know, we might come to the terrifying conclusion that we probably have become one of these biased jurors at some point in our past.

. . .

I read a post recently on social media. It said, “**** Jesus, and most of all Christianity”.

This was so painful for me to read. The anger in this person’s heart is so very obvious, and it’s likely that he has been hurt very much by a person or group proclaiming to uphold the faith taught in the Bible.

If such anger is in a person’s heart, could they really objectively look at the evidence for the Christian faith? Or, is it possible that they had made up their mind about it based on an experience they had?

It is so easy for emotions to get in the way of an honest assessment.

I pray that this man finds some peace in his future.

. . .

One of the most sobering things we can do is to accept the very likely chance that we currently hold a point of view that is likely not correct. Maybe it’s because of something traumatic that happened in our past. Maybe we had already made up our mind on that particular topic, and so minimized the new information we just received. Maybe we really did try to look into it, but due to the multitude of different perspectives, we just got bogged down with too much information.

. . .

What can we do about all of this? Well, obviously it would be pretty tricky to evaluate everything that we currently believe about every subject. However, the first thing I think we can do is to admit that we probably have something in our heads that is not actually true. Secondly, and probably the most important, is for us to be humble. Let’s approach conversations and people with humility. Instead of cutting people off mid-sentence to tell them how wrong they are, let’s listen. Even if they’re telling us something that we’ve heard before, let’s listen as if we’ve never heard it before.

I’m curious. If we did this, what would happen? Would the other person be surprised by our curiosity and our openness to engage in a fair and polite conversation? Would they wonder why we didn’t shut them down right away? Maybe they would be more willing to have a conversation rather than an argument. And I think that’s just what our world needs right now.

Game On, my friends. I hope and pray for many humble conversations in your future.

By Steve Bongiorno

I write about gaming, books, faith, and family.

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