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What I Learned from JonBenet

I have a thing for true crime.  Started with avid reading in my youth.  First it was fantasy and science fiction.  Sci-fi often bordered on horror, so I migrated to Stephen King and Clive Barker.  Then I realized it was scarier if the horror was real!  So here I am some 40 years later reading about JonBenet, Adnan Syed, and Jodi Arais.  I blame it all on The Hobbit.

For those of you who lead less dark and disturbing lives, it has been 20 years since JonBenet Ramsey, the little beauty queen, was found murdered in her parents’ home.  There have been many TV programs marking this creepy anniversary of the unsolved case. And I have watched them all.   What I’ve learned:

What you leave out (or what you emphasize) changes the whole story.  The facts of the case are the facts, right?  But after one broadcast I was convinced the parents were innocent.  After another I was calling for the death penalty.  Takeaway – do not believe everything you hear or read.  Get multiple sources, do your homework.  This is more important than ever.  Today every yahoo with access to the Internet is an expert – and might be retweeted by CNN.

Once you make up your mind, it is hard to change it.  When I first entered the JonBenet fray, I had no opinion.  After three “special reports” and one well-written book, I’ve decided.  Good luck changing my mind.  It is human nature; we tend to seek out data that backs up our decisions or reinforces our beliefs.    With some things, this doesn’t matter and might even serve us (I’m no longer reading anything about JonBenet – undoubtedly a good thing).  But recognizing this tendency and working to offset it for things that really matter is important.   Leaders often think their people are happy and cite no complaints as evidence.  They ignore the fact that people leave early every day and that innovation has ceased.  If something matters, seek multiple sources of information and pay close attention to those that vary from your opinion.

We are ALL biased.  We all have biases and prejudices.  If you think you don’t, you’re wrong.  We’re influenced by our experiences and our upbringing, by what we read and by our friends.  I think putting little girls in beauty pageants is kinda creepy – that’s a bias I bring to this case.  I have loads of other biases that impact how I see the world – many of them involve frosting.  Try to uncover yours so you can see the world more clearly.  I know I’m a prosecutor’s dream – I need to work on having more empathy and considering more options.  You may be the reverse and need to realize that some people really do bad things.  But if you think you have no biases, you’re missing an opportunity for growth.

We like certainty, but are fascinated by mystery.  One of the reasons we’re still hearing about this case is that it’s unsolved.  We don’t know exactly what happened (and probably never will).   Eerie, haunting, fascinating.  But we don’t want to live like that.  We want to know we’ll have jobs tomorrow, the bad guys are in jail, and our kids are safe.  Leaders/lovers/parents have to keep things certain enough so people feel safe and can function, and also mysterious enough that they are engaged.

Transparency is important.   JonBenet’s parents lawyered up almost immediately.  It made everyone suspicious.  To this day it seems strange given the circumstances.  Now given my love of true crime, I plan to lawyer up immediately if the police show up, but in most cases, being as transparent as possible is the way to go.   Hiding things from people almost always backfires.

Love thy neighbor.  But keep your guard up – people are crazy.

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5 years ago

I’m thinking – that I wish I had another conference to attend in which Denise is a speaker! I had the privilege of attending a class at Wrightsville Beach Denise taught this past February – I was blown away by her enthusiasm, perspective and most of all, humor. When I returned to work, it was my goal to incorporate the things I learned from Denise to deal with those things in life over which we have no control. While not always 100% successful, I at least have the ‘tools’ in my ‘bag’. I read Ronda Rich’s articles and correspond with… Read more »

5 years ago

Such truth Denise! You are so right! We are DEFINITELY all biased!

Aletha Pugh
5 years ago

Good information and very entertaining:)

T. Thomas
5 years ago

Love thy neighbor. But keep your guard up – people are crazy. Now that’s gold . . . solid gold and a truth to live by . Thanks Denise Ryan for sharing your time and talent .