In a western, how do you tell the difference between the hero and villain? It’s easy. The hero wears a white hat. The villain wears the black one.
How do you tell the difference in a courtroom?
Picture the two tables in front of the Judge. The prosecutor and a uniformed policeman usually sit together. Their table is the one closest to the jury. The accused and his lawyer at the other.
Now, imagine there are two sets of cowboy hats. Two white. Two black. Put the hats on the people you believe should wear them.
Who do the black hats belong to?
What about the white ones?
Your answer probably had more to do with expectations than extrapolations. I bet the person whom the judge told you was charged with a crime got a black hat. His defense lawyer got the other. I also bet, I would’ve won a lot of money on that wager. But, I shouldn’t.
Every jury is given a rule: the fact that a person has been charged with a crime is not evidence of guilt. There is a good reason for the rule. We all believe…that it’s evidence of guilt.
Despite the rule…
We want to believe only people who wear black hats get arrested.
At the same time, and despite our leanings, we do endeavor to only convict guilty people. We want to correctly pick out the good guys from the bad guys, the heroes from the villains, the Jedi from the Sith. We don’t want to put the black hat on the wrong person. But certainly, there are times when we do.
Notwithstanding your best efforts, it’s hard to outthink your brain. Your brain is a pattern-matching machine. Using your prior perceptions, it’s constantly in a process of attempting to simplify the complex. Your previous associations become your present connections.
Your brain will find patterns…
even when they are purely subjective. Whether you like it or not, there are times when your brain will have a mind of its own.
It’s hard to accept that your brain is not always an instrument of truth. But remember, it took Yoda until the end of the third prequel to realize that Palpatine (a.k.a. Darth Sidious) was the bad guy. And he can use the force. The rest of us are equipped with much less powerful truth detectors.
The best chance to sway a belief is to appeal to the other end of the tether. By speaking to someone’s values – that fit the beliefs you want to be adopted.
What values do you hold tighter than those found in our Constitution? Our Constitution is more than just a set of written rules. It’s intended to reflect our country’s collective character.
The presumption of innocence is a direct extension of these values. You might think of it as your patriotic duty. Maybe you see it as how to ensure fairness. Regardless of which value (patriotism or fairness) motivates, speaking to the value, is how you shift a belief.
“It’s your duty to avoid putting the black hat on…”
“No one gets a fair trial if…”
In either frame, you find less comfort in your initial association between hat and head. It might even lead to the realization that sometimes innocent people wear black hats…and you might have been the one who put it on his head.
However, a long time ago…in a place not so far away…our own republic recognized the perils of putting the black hat on the wrong person. And how easily it can happen when the government merely accuses someone of a crime.
Our founding fathers…
saw first hand how the British used mere accusations as a means of tyranny. So, we made rules to protect the innocent. Even at the risk of letting some of the guilty go free.
Perhaps the most fundamental of them is the presumption of innocence. In a way, it’s a rule that tells us who must start off wearing the white hat.
However, even in the face of this rule, we are still inclined to put the black hat on the accused. After merely seeing him. It turns out that rules are a poor methodology to suppress a belief.
The problem is a belief doesn’t need evidence.
It’s a thing you know to be true without it. A rule can’t change a belief. We can only hope to get past a strongly held belief, by shifting the focus to something tethered to it – a strongly held value.
Values grow out of beliefs. They’re the sum of what you have perceived and learned from your beliefs resulting in a tightly held principle. They directly influence your choices by creating a gut reaction as to what’s right and wrong.