O.J. in the Eye of the Beholder

Jan 21, 2016
Shai Harary

Have you seen the ads yet for the upcoming FX TV miniseries, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story?

Here in Los Angeles, we’ve been bombarded by posters for the show, which features O.J. Simpson covering both eyes – his left hand encased in the infamous leather glove; the right, ungloved.

The image takes me back over 20 years ago when our nation was riveted by the case against Simpson, the most infamous Heisman trophy-winning, record-breaking NFL running back of all time.

When the trial commenced, I was a recent law school graduate working in Miami as an Assistant State Attorney in the Dade County State Attorney’s Office.

During part of the trial, I was assigned to the juvenile courts and shared an office with a good friend of mine who came into the State Attorney’s office at the same time as me. He was very bright, extremely motivated, and he had my respect from the very beginning of our friendship.

As the Simpson trial unfolded, however, it became obvious that we had totally different opinions about the proceedings. While I felt the prosecution’s evidence was clear and abundant, he poked holes in their case – from Mark Fuhrman’s reported racism to the defense’s ability time and time again to cast a shadow of a doubt on the witnesses and exhibits the prosecution presented. (“If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit!”)

Still, when the verdict came out, I was shocked by the revelry with which my friend met O.J.’s acquittal. I couldn’t imagine how another prosecutor sworn to uphold the same law that I was could see this as a victory for justice – and yet, he absolutely did.

This case, like many others, had holes and inconsistencies on both sides. It is in these weak spots like this that verdicts take a subjective foothold.

How we viewed the Simpson verdict came down to a difference in perspectives; my friend is black, and I’m white. And so race, which was the lens through which we — and most of our country as well – viewed this particular situation colored our judgments and opinions.

So goes the state of affairs in the world today. Now more than ever, it seems, we put on our personal goggles – be they race, gender, economics, class, values, etc. – and dig our heels in on our own “side.”

Take for example our political system, which has never been more polarized than it is now. Americans can view the exact same situation, scenario, debate or commentary, and yet perceive it and recount it completely differently. Today’s discourse is marked by sharp disagreements over a seemingly endless list of issues.

The contentious atmosphere that exists in American politics, especially during this election cycle, is the same one that spawns litigation. A sense of insularity and a commitment to comfort level with confirmation bias is more and more common – and troubling.

In my opinion, actively maintaining an existence within the proverbial “bubble” is not only unhealthy for our country, it can also be problematic for your business. It’s important that we don’t let the acrimony of our times and the differences that reasonable people may see in interpreting the same situation differently divide us.

There are certain things that you can do to shelter your business from all the negativity that exists in the world and use as a method to avoid conflict in litigation:

  1. Stay positive. Be upbeat and optimistic, not only in your outlook, but also in how you deal with other people, whether they’re your customers, clients, partners or colleagues. Be positive, and you will be pleased to see how often you’ll attract an in-kind reaction.
  2. Stay in communication. It is in the darkness of silence that suspicion, fear, doubt and resentment are born. Constant, honest and open communication is very important.
  3. Disclose bad news right away. Don’t sit on it and let it fester. When it comes to light, it may make it seem like you were hiding something. Be upfront and honest.
  4. Condition yourself to have constructive responses to challenging situations. When the going gets tough, it’s tough not to get going… in a negative direction. Instead of being resistant, angry or combative, try to see all the angles – especially those of the other side. Ask yourself “What can I learn from this?” and “What is the gift in this for me?” Putting things context makes it much easier to be productive in the face of challenging scenarios.
  5. Rigid ways of thinking, especially perfectionism, make things much harder. If you try to be invulnerable or perfect, then guess what? You set yourself up for failure, and also increase the chances that you will have some kind of a conflict. Be flexible, accessible, genuine and honest.
  6. Honor your word. When you say you’re going to do something, do it. By keeping your word, you will avoid other people feeling as if you cannot be trusted, and it’s when people feel you can’t be trusted or if you’ve breached their confidence that conflict blossoms and thrives.
  7. Be a good listener. While I’m not saying you have to agree with everything the other side has to say, it’s not only respectful to give it a fair listen, but it’s also helpful – to you. While it’s easy to spot the points of contention, it’s far more nuanced to find the points of connection. And that’s exactly where you can bridge the gaps and move forward productively toward a solution that works for all.

In life, nobody’s perspective is more or less valuable than yours – and yours is no more or less valuable than someone else’s. Innocence or guilt is always colored by the lens through which each of us view any given situation. This is where the law comes in, as the goal of both the defense and the prosecution is the same: to adjust that lens so that bias is eliminated. When it came to the O.J. Simpson case, while my friend and I agreed to disagree on the verdict, we also maintained respect for one another, which survives to this day.

So if there’s anything to be learned from this famous case, it’s understanding that while perspective is at the eye level, what we allow it to do to us – push us further away or bring us closer together to better understand one and another – is in the hands of the beholders.