Don’t Jump to Conclusions
— Allan Pole
Listen to our audio version below.
I read a book about Steven Truscott when I was a boy. On the evening of June 9, 1959 Steven was seen giving classmate Lynne Harper a ride on his bicycle in Clinton, Ontario. They parted ways. Later that evening her father reported his 12-year-old daughter missing. Two days later Lynne’s body was found in a nearby wooded area. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled to death. On June 13, 1959 Steven was charged with Lynne’s murder. Despite being 14, Steven was ordered to stand trial as an adult.
Police and prosecutors focused on Steven as the only suspect in Lynne’s murder, which led to Steven’s wrongful conviction; this phenomenon is known as tunnel vision. Steven was imprisoned on death row, but then paroled after ten years. After his release at age 24, Steven moved to Guelph, Ontario, changed his name, and worked as a millwright—a trade he had learned in prison. In October 1970 he married Marlene and had three children. He has never been charged with any other criminal offence. He lived with the label murderer for 48 years.
Solomon warns against jumping to conclusions in Proverbs 18:17: “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.” —NIV
Decision-making can be like using a microwave oven.
Our courts and governments are built upon principles of cross-examination and debate—in the pursuit of truth and wise decisions. So, when the media releases the names of those arrested and charged for crimes—before the court proclaims a verdict—it really bothers me. They are jumping to conclusions.
Our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states,
“Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law:
(11.) Any person charged with an offence has the right…(d) to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal (http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/Const/page-15.html).
Instead, we often rush toward declaring someone guilty, while the media feeds this rashness.
Someone once said, “The only exercise some people get is from jumping to conclusions, running people down, and dodging responsibility.”
After sitting and suffering with Job for seven days and seven nights (Job 2:13), his friends followed the path of logic to their conclusion—Job must be guilty for God to punish him so severely. Let’s be honest—we would typically side with this reasoning.
Why else would bad things happen to good people? Ah, but wait a minute! Life is not always so simple. There might be reasons for tragedies and triumphs that we neither see, nor understand. The view from where we stand among the trees—can be very limited. However, there is One who sees the entire forest!
We jump to conclusions when we anticipate or assume what someone else is going to say or do. We begin to question motives and even finish sentences for others. This is a great way to get people to shut down and close themselves off. While we try to draw near to others, we become our own worst enemy by using these tactics. Job and his friends were doing well in the testing—until they started to speak. Lesson learned [that will take us a long way in relationships]—don’t rush to solve problems.
When someone presents their opinions or their problems, will you try to understand rather than solve? When you form your opinions, will you choose to listen to opposing views? Will you avoid stereotypical assumptions with people of different cultures?
Decision-making can be like using a microwave oven, or a crockpot.
There are times when you need to make decisions quickly. Paramedics, police officers, firefighters, and emergency room nurses are often called upon to make instant decisions. We also need to make quick decision sometimes in daily life—in our conversations, in our clothes closets, and on the highways. Obviously, you can’t take all day with each decision!
My father-in-law claims it takes longer for him to buy a shirt than to buy a car. I understand his point, because some decisions I make on the spot, others would take days to make. However, many decisions require more time, thought, prayer, and counsel.
The Ancient Greek philosopher (384–322 B.C.) Aristotle noted, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
This principle can be helpful when you are faced with a decision. Don’t only go to people who will say what you want to hear, or who will agree with everyone else. Go to people who will challenge your opinions and the opinions of others. This will enlarge your perspective. Many people are not willing to do the work or take the time to sort through views that might challenge them too much.
First impressions are lasting impressions. We often form opinions, about people and situations, based on first impressions or another person’s statements. We look at how people appear and let their words carry more or less weight accordingly. By doing this, we may miss many opportunities for wise input. However, it can be challenging and liberating to say, “You know, I had never thought of it that way before.”
When someone is expressing their views, does it matter how they are dressed or how they express themselves? Will you choose to look beyond people’s appearance and listen to their hearts?
If DNA testing had existed in 1959, police could have used it to determine if Steven Truscott was guilty or innocent; and, equally important, track down Lynne Harper’s real killer. On August 28, 2007 the Court of Appeal squashed Steven’s conviction and acquitted him. The Ontario Attorney-General apologized to him on behalf of the provincial government. Steven was no longer a convicted murderer in the eyes of the law. He was awarded $6.5 million in compensation by the Ontario government in 2008; part of which Truscott used to launch the Truscott Initiative in Justice Studies at the University of Guelph—funding two scholarships for students in the field.
Decision-making can be like using a microwave oven (quick to judge), or a crockpot (coming to conclusions as slowly as possible).