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The Number of Inappropriate Teacher-Student Relationships Keeps Rising, and So Do Arrests: Professional Development Needed!

18 Sep


Head’s up to all public school districts, and private schools.

When it comes to establishing relationships–including the proper use of communications technology and social media between students, teachers, coaches, and administrators–and even with parents, there is a terrific blurring of personal and professional boundaries.

My book Teacher-Student Relationships:  Crossing into the Emotional, Physical, and Sexual Realms is a guide to reduce the problems, by enhancing the boundaries and calling into account the higher calling of teachers, coaches, and administrators.  The book details the problems associated with inappropriate relationships and offers solutions to make education a much safer place for all.


I am available to assist faculty and students to discern where the boundaries are at this time of confusion on many fronts, between teachers and the pupils and athletes they are charged to teach, protect, and mentor in their classes, or on the fields.

Feel free to email me at, or post a comment here.  I will return messages.

Please click the following link, to read about the serious abuse issue occurring in the nation, but particularly Texas.  My work is quoted and I am referred to repeatedly, in the piece.

Coming Out . . . The Genius of It All

2 Mar


A few years back, our school newspaper published an article titled, “Sexuality loses meaning as it becomes career booster.” The title, in-and-of-itself, was an oxymoron. The very thing that enhances careers is indeed meaningful. In fact, the claim of “sexuality” at all has become and “enigmatic enhancement” of the first order. How’s THAT for an oxymoron?

But semantics aside, titles are meant to catch people’s attention. What is it about today’s culture, anyway? Everyone seems to be defining themselves by their sexuality. The stars in the media always have to come across as sexy. Clothes have to be sexy. Food has to be sexy. Then there are mouthwashes, toothpastes, cars, whatever! Sex sells, I guess. Being sexy-gay, and metro-sexual also sell in today’s culture. Even Facebook has caved to the pressures of sexual expression, called by progressives as “gender identity.”

In that issue of the school newspaper, comments by students were printed in response to others, who have chosen alternative lifestyles. Isn’t everyone’s lifestyle an alternative one? Titles really do not define us, and neither do nicknames. What they do, though, is capture attention. Consequently, if a person favors traditional marriage, he or she is labeled “anti-homosexual,” or a homophobe.” Attention pushes emotions and thus, fads are born. High school campuses are replete with fads. Sex is just one more fad. However, fads based on sexuality are just a bit different, in that people seem to think their sex and gender are who they are.

The Genius of It All

Here is an example. If I call myself a genius, a born genius, and I am someone who joins up with groups of geniuses—and even begin to wear the “attire of the genius” groups, use the language of geniuses, etc.–I am perceived by these actions as a genius. But am I truly a genius? Would a genius seek to be one so desperately that he must come out as one and join a group?

Taking things even farther, I could even have participated in a community parade of geniuses and protested people of ordinary intelligence, calling them all hater of geniuses, if they dared to speak of the ordinary in ways that validated their ordinary intelligence. All things considered, do any of these actions mean I am a genius? Participation in the actions that some equate with lifestyle does not necessarily equate to the conclusion that I am a genius. I could bear the title of GENIUS and not be one. What is more, I could claim to have been born a genius, only to arrive later in life at the realization that I am quite an “ordinary genius.” Talk about oxymorons?

We live in a heightened state of sexual identity today, media-driven to be sure! How else would high schoolers—or anyone for that matter—know their sexuality, absent the practice? In my opinion, the titles we ascribe to our identities are not the real points of identification. Just like one’s beliefs, names are just that—NAMES. It is the actual, continued practice that defines us, in my opinion. Attraction is not the main issue. In the same way no one can claim to be a potato because of one’s regular cravings, attractions–and even addiction–for french fries, no one can say they are heterosexual or homosexual merely by attraction, or sexual lust. I’ll return to this conclusion a bit later. One thing is certain: We are all born sexual.

In case no one has paid attention yet, allow me to open a door and reveal this truth. We, the human race, are sexual creatures. Did you hear me? WE ARE SEXUAL. Why should we have to go around labeling ourselves by culturally-spotlighted titles? Why should heterosexuals and homosexuals have to somehow be certain that their sexuality is front-and-center? Think about it. Why do we have “sexuality clubs” on school campus? The Gay and Straight Alliance (GSA) is a club titled after sexual orientation and practice? Is being “straight” a belief or a practice? Or is it a world-view? Or better yet is it an inalienable right to be homosexual, found somewhere in Jefferson’s Declaration, or Locke’s Natural Rights?

Considering Teenagers

How do teens ever know what they are, unless they practice something long enough to know? Are high schoolers even oriented yet? Their brains and bodies are changing daily. Do we expect that teens WILL inevitably experiment with sexuality to discover their orientation? I hope not. That is quite dangerous. So, what purpose does a “sexual-titled” club have? I’d love to hear of the celibate homosexual–talk about the ultimate in doublespeak!!!

Any Google search will produce the answers to the questions just raised. There are places all over the nation popping up that base their identity on sexuality—as far down as middle and elementary schools. However, instead of going Google, many young people are going “Gaga.” Here is one such recent example:

The Youth Empowerment Summit (YES)

YES took place at Everett Middle School, just one of dozens of locations in the past few years. YES remains a FREE conference, sponsored by GSA Network for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, questioning, and straight ally youth dedicated to fostering safe schools and youth activism. The conference is open to all youth and allies, with a focus on middle school and high school. Adults and teachers are welcome. Under the guise of “bullying,” the homosexuality agenda has made its was into all the corners of our kids lives.

It is not a moot issue to ask why not have a BSC Club too (Bi-Sexual Curious club). What about a Transgender Club? Many GSAs include these other orientations and lifestyles as protectionary, for those choose to proclaim a different sexuality. If gays do not feel comfortable in places, based upon their sexuality, then bisexuals and transgenders will probably feel just as uncomfortable. Should all sexual expressions have their own club? I would like to know just what “alliance” is formed between students of different sexual expressions? What about the “teenagers with crushes on their teachers clubs”? I’ll stop there at the edge of absurdity.

Why can’t we just stick to clubs period, you know, those that enhance civic participation and not sexuality? Why does sexuality have to be the open door? I shudder to think that demonstrating sexual practice is somehow one’s civic duty. Does there have to be a heterosexual community service club and a homosexual service club? Could we ever envision a non-gender club? Hmmm. How about naming it the Interact Club, where everyone interacts? What about Rotary, or Lions Clubs?

What About the Celibates?

What I am pointing out in this article, and hopefully the reader is catching some of my sarcasm and facetious allusions, along the way, is that we are all sexual creatures– including celibates? Those folks are defined by their LACK of practice, or orientation. Are they born that way, or is it a choice? Do we have opportunities for them to be celibate, and are they offended by all of this intolerable sex-talk? Celibates are still male or female, therefore sexual. I would like to see the statistics on gay celibates–those who have never had sex before. I would enjoy a discussion to discover how celibates know they are gay. The norm never has to explain itself. It is pure silliness to think that just attraction and even physical lust makes one gay, yet these are the primary determinants of one’s “same-sex-ploration,” if you will, all pigeonholed by the phrase “born that way.”

We live in a society that is so afraid to discuss the gay-issue, for fear of being labeled a homophobe (fear of gays). Labels, Schmabels, Carling Black-Labels (Calm down; The latter is a beer). As a person, I dislike bashing of any kind. Bashing heterosexuals who speak out as activists against the gay-lifestyle, with labels of bigotry, is as bad as heterosexuals who bashing gays at every opportunity. I agree with my colleagues that bashing and sexual slurs have to stop. But, I will go one further. Defining oneself by their sexuality invites polarization, and that also has to stop, unless we are going to allow additional marginalization of Americans with whom they choose to love and with whom to have sex. I call that form of identification quite shallow. But we live in a culture of labels and shallowness, and it is as if people are so uncontrolled in their desires they cannot help themselves and have little choice in their actions. Additional labels are assigned when one finds heterosexuality, and comes out of the homosexual lifestyle. It seems that with sex, you can’t have it “both ways.”

Lost and Found?

Anyone who comes out of the closet to admit their sexuality is somehow viewed as a person who has found himself, or herself. When were they lost? Many gay-adults are people who had opposite-sex spouses and families, children, and were involved in mainstream American life and living. Suddenly some of these folks walk away from marriages, many of their responsibilities, and those they reared, in order to pursue themselves? That is quite the height of selfishness, if you ask me–another hallmark of the current culture.

Do I have to admit to being a heterosexual for the world to accept me? Am I intolerant if I have different set of beliefs about sexuality? Not at all in either case.

New Civil Rights?

I have heard it said that the gay rights issue of today is a new “race” issue, like unto what the blacks faced in earlier decades. I think that argument is a red herring. No one I know has chosen to leave the Asian, Black, or Caucasian races to join another. Slaves were property with no rights, no freedom of speech, etc. Gays have all of these constitutional rights and more, depending on the state–where the Constitution grants everyone the same basic rights. Your skin color and DNA are what they are. If just one person leaves homosexuality and lives a heterosexual life, then there goes the ALL GAYS ARE BORN THAT WAY.

If a person uses race as analogous to sexuality, in order to define or identify oneself, then a coming out of one race to realize he or she is not truly that race, would suffice. Many of us have heard about, or know gays and straights, that have chosen another lifestyle. Trust me on this. There is nothing Eminem, Madonna, or JT can do to be Timbaland, “no matta how day dress wiff dare cloves.” I know we are “One Nation,” but don’t ask the aforementioned to “Apologize” for their own identities. They did NOT choose them. I reiterate, if just one gay or straight has chosen the alternate lifestyle, then the “birth” argument needs to be reexamined. And believe me, it does need to be reexamined. There are many reasons for “being” homosexual, departing from the norm. Maybe I have it wrong. Maybe we are all born homosexual, and because of abuse, social conditioning, or gender identity maturity, we just come out as heterosexual–even though we say nothing about it. Are you shaking your head yet?

Today we have gay sports teams being sued by bisexual players for sexual discrimination. Homosexuals are demanding that marriage is a right, when it is clearly NOT a right. Government might grant a legal right, but it can never be “right.” Gays in Texas want to divorce there, even when they were not married in that state. They’ll try anything to get a state to recognize marriage. If states against gay-marriage grant divorces from OTHER states’ marriages, then they (1) would have to recognize the marriage for a divorce to be granted, and (2) “the full faith and credit clause” would be implied, opening the door to federal decisions to bring the “doctrine of incorporation” into the mix. Having said that, it is just a matter of time before homosexual marriage (notice, I did not say same-sex marriage) is brought to the Supreme Court. The trend is that soon, homosexual marriage will be a legally done deal, and incorporated into all 50 states. Then it will be like abortion–forever an issue that will raise anger and disgust for many.


We have proms being cancelled because lesbians and gay teenagers want to make it a point to being same-sex dates. Things are so out of control that there is little sense anymore. It’s all about the individual and not the common good. Soon there will be heterosexual proms, homosexual proms, bisexual proms, transgender proms, etc. There are already proms and graduation parties designated by race and ethnicity. I am starting to see some reasons why some Muslims of the radical sects want to destroy the western world. But they don’t have to do it. We are doing it to ourselves.

In closing, I reiterate, we are all born sexual, for that is what being male and female imply when you check the gender box. I know it is popular today for people to define gender and sex different ways. Expressing that reality with sexual practice, or not expressing that is mostly about one’s choice. Without the practice, who knows? We all have our feelings and passions. How does anyone really know what his preferences are, when they are based in experimentation? I would not trust a teenage mind to make a lifelong determination about sexuality.

Teenagers and Life-Altering Decisions

I would hate to define anybody by their feelings and passions—especially high-schoolers–whose brains and bodies are changing every day. Here’s the bottom line. Am I against gays, or somehow a homophobe? Nope. That would be silly. I can easily separate issues from people. What I am against is this notion that somehow we must accept that everyone’s individuality who is either born gay, straight, whatever–over and against the vast majority of others. I am against a group hijacking sexuality and calling those who speak out, all sorts of names. It is classical republicanism versus individual rights all over again. Common good for the majority, versus the individuality expression of one, or a group. This is a good struggle to have in a democracy, as long as the struggle is not enjoined by haters using media and politics to ruin dissenters.

Coming out of the closet is a choice. I repeat, coming out in a “choice.” So too, is coming out of, and entering a lifestyle. No one is so compelled and driven to practice a lifestyle, unless there are issues of abuse, self-control, or some other sociological or personal concerns, such as addictions. Does this mean that out of all homosexuals, NONE are born that way? Probably not. However, no one has discovered the “gay gene,” yet. But does that mean all are born as such? I would reject that notion, because humans are not so bound that they cannot un-choose, make new choices, or choose not to choose, at all.

Speaking of such concerns, I want to go on record and come out and state that I am a “caffeinexual.” I have been hiding this fact and been cavorting with tea drinkers. People think I actually am a “tea-drinker.” I feel highly empowered, after having written this piece. I also feel like a parade is “brewing.” Coffee drinkers unite! We are all born this way. I can now check the gender box as a caffeinexual. But I can both ways, honestly–and I have! Coffee or tea? I am attracted to both, depending on my moods and the days of the week. Come and join me in my classroom any morning in my new Coffee-Tea-Alliance, to celebrate my “phreshness,” as long as you have “grounds” to do so.

Attention Educators!

20 Apr

Front Cover

Front Cover

We have a national epidemic on our hands!″ title=”Teacher-Student Relationships: Crossing Into the Emotional, Physical, and Sexual Realms” target=”_blank”>

Is Suicide Unpardonable?

6 Apr

I would like to open a discussion on the topic of a person taking his or her life. We call it by the term “suicide.” Of course, the suicide of Pastor Rick Warren’s son, Matthew, age 27, has spurred this post. Is suicide ever justified?

I am saddened about the death of Matthew Warren, and I am dedicated to praying for the family. I hope you are also.

Furthermore, let us make certain to spend a little extra time lingering over those hugs with our kids, and making certain to state our love in words and by actions. One never knows how long we have on this earth, which leads me to the next point.

The facts are that even with all of these loving expressions, we live in a world that is tainted by evil and sin. We live in bodies that are faulty, and riddle with chemical imbalances, at time. We also live in a world that clamors for our lives. There is no mistaking the fact that evil exists, and that some people are tempted to end their lives. The culture of death and abuse in which we live is pervasive. Many young people are not seeing their futures as full of purpose.

I am left to wonder the extent that biology plays into suicidal thoughts. I know firsthand the thyroid deficiencies that cause destructive thoughts and irrational behaviors. I am aware of the depression that haunts some people, due to chemical imbalances, bipolarism, or clinical depression. The threat of suicide by all should be taken seriously. There is the reality that the brain is affected by biology and chemistry, and emotions and the brain are connected.

When these connections line up and negative emotions emerge from angry moods and language of destruction, we all must listen. However, what happens when we are all blindsided by irrational acts?

Having said all of this, permit me to address some issues for conversational purposes.

First, Jesus, in offering up His life and being in command of the moment it ended, has been accused of suicide by some critics. I would like to know the differences between giving up one’s life by choice, and ending one’s life by choice. They are both ends of life by choice. Is it in the purpose that we consider one not as suicide and the other, as such?

Second, if a military person charges directly into the line of fire, we call this person a hero—even if it means his life is ended. Is this suicide to do so, knowing the outcome is sure death? On the other hand, again, is it in the purpose for which the life ended that allows the removal of the label of suicide?

Third, is it possible for a person to be in such a state that ending his or her own life is to be viewed as equal to sacrifice for a higher cause? Alternatively, is suicide a cheap way out of problems, purposeless, irrational, and devoid of anything heroic?
We struggle to understand reasons why people would be tormented by thoughts of death and destruction. Yet, if we trace the family history, it seems as if others in the family’s past have also committed the destructive act. Some argue this is a spiritual issue. Others argue it is genetic and that mental illnesses are passed on.

I think there is a sensible position in the middle, where both explanations might fit as reasons. Certainly drugs can cause a person to commit irrational acts—whether prescription or not.

This leads me to the ultimate question: If the last act committed by a Christian is a sin—in the case of suicide, which a crime against oneself and a sin to God, as well as the stumbling other believers—does this person find himself in the presence of the Lord, and ultimately heaven? I do not know the answer to this question. I did not originate life and I do not control its ends and eternality.

Additional issues for concern:

(1) How is killing others the same, or different from killing self?

(2) If suicide ever justified for the believer, if it means saving someone else from harm?

(3) Is suicide an unpardonable sin, since the person deceased cannot ask for forgiveness after the fact?

(4) Is there purposeful suicide to alleviate suffering, whereby the person saves others from having to deal with the individual any longer?

(5) If a physician assists in a patient’s suicide, by his or her choice, is that really suicide, or murder—or both?

(6) What reasons are there biblically, and what theological context is there, to say categorically that suicide keeps one out of heaven, or allows one into heaven?

I do not pretend to know everything, and I am neither a medical doctor nor a psychiatrist. Nevertheless, I have opinions. I shared some of mine. Now, I would like to know yours!

Kern County Business Ethics and Leadership Conference 2012

24 Mar

Kern County Business Ethics and Leadership Conference 2012

By Dr. Ernie Zarra


Thanks to all of the sponsors.

I would like to address a few things about leadership in my remarks this morning.

So, hold on and allow me to challenge us all before we head back to our schools, places of business, and others places of employment.

One of the best things about being human is that we are able to make decisions.  It is also one of the worst things about being human.

Decisions are actually choices that involve or affect others in the real world.  They also have outcomes that either build up, or tear down the reputations of these same people.

When it comes to living, we know the right things to do, but there are times when we choose expediency over honesty.  You see, expediency focuses on a “what’s in it for me” outcome of a choice, or choosing just to make it through some experience at the moment.

Expediency is that choice to do what it “right” for me, over what is right, overall.

There are many examples of this across politics, and yes even in schools.  But when we resort to expediency, we choose mediocrity over truth.  Today we need leaders whose lives and practices are based in truth.  So, in leading, shun expediency and mediocrity.  But love and practice truth.

The kind of ethic that hides the truth is an ethic of avoidance.  I won’t go into the psychology part, but suffice to say that there is a fear many of us have:  A fear of failing.

There are other fears we have as leaders, such as a fear of confrontation, and a flat-out apprehensiveness toward the unknown—and even a fear of not being liked because of our decisions.  Fear paralyzes decision-making.

Why is it we have such a terrible time telling each other the truth about the way we feel, or the way things just have to be?  Could it be that one of the tools of good leadership is not yet fully developed?  Do we lack the ability of putting others first and walking in their shoes?  Or could it be that we cannot properly frame the truth with tact?  In leading, I encourage all of us to be bold and brave.

With an ethic of expediency we choose to soften the blow of information if it is to have an adverse effect upon others. When we do this, we act as if the communication is our fault and that we must preface the information with an apology of sorts.  This is the “Please still like me” approach.

People in leadership often have an issue with being accepted after making decisions—even when the decisions are the correct ones for many people.  Acceptance seems more important than respect in today’s society.  Leaders lead, even when acceptance of that leadership falls short of personal expectation.  However, focus on being an empathetic leader of people who respect you as a person and disagreements will begin to be shaped differently.

Expediency is often seen in the actions of what we call diplomacy.  We embellish stories and stretch the truth to be nice, to try to ease the listener’s pain, or avoid accountability by running ourselves down with a false humility.  All of this is done to lift up another person, but we must ask ourselves are we being genuine to our calling as leaders, or expedient to gain someone’s support?  Personal relationships and leadership of people are not focused on “selling things” to others.

Expediency sometimes comes across as syrup being poured slowly from a bottle.  It’s smooth in its delivery, but pour just a little too much–and suddenly we are gagged with sweetness.

Nothing demonstrates this better than making excuses for behaviors at school, during sporting events from the stands, or missing class when tired.  Ever claimed to be sick on days when assignments are due?  Expediency avoids the truth as we choose what is right for the moment for us.  The same is true in business.  If we cut corners to make a profit, or to diminish quality of product or service, we lost some of our personal credibility.

As leaders, we all simply look weak when we do things like these.  No matter how one slices this, it is unethical and teaches a very poor principle; namely: avoidance is acceptable.

Ethical leaders are examples of rightness, both in word and deed.  Ethical leaders are people of trusted character—even when no one is watching.  It has been said that we get better at what we practice.  So, what are we practicing?

As leaders we all must learn to be authentic, to confront, to take personal responsibility, and to ask for forgiveness over many things.  Then we must work to make things right when our choices cause concerns.

Humility is an excellent trait for a leader.  However, humility to gain something other than being humble is another example of expediency.  As many of you know, we cannot be fearful of conflict, or pain.  If what needs to be done is the right thing to do, we need to do it!  Today we desperately need authentic leaders.  So, be authentic, even if it means losing power in doing so.  Contrary to expediency, lasting respect from others brings greater reward in the long-run.

Our challenge is to continue to be honest because it is the right thing to do.  Again, we know what’s right.  Is there anything in your life that is keeping you from being the leader you are meant to be?  If so, give yourself permission to let it go!  Then let it go.

Taking responsibility for things that we say and do just seems like something passé. Today we are told that words and actions do not have to line up. In fact, words are used by some leaders as justification for ill-behaving actions.  Isn’t this quite annoying?

Mixed messages are just that:  Mixed!  More often than not, mixed messages result in greater confusion, than if we just kept quiet to begin with.

Take, for example, the sign that was tacked to a tree near a Catholic convent: “No trespassing! Violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law–Sisters of Mercy.”  We call that a mixed message.  Do we come across in this same way, because of mixed messages between our words and actions?

As an educator, I work in the trenches daily.  As students, community leaders, and business folks, we are all entrusted with power.  As the son of a small business leader, I can attest to many of the things I have spoken of this morning.  Suffice to say, there is great responsibility with power.  It is true that to whom much is given, much is required.

As a teacher, the moment I say one thing and do not follow-up with actions that align with my words, my students are quick to call me out on it–and rightly so!

If leaders seek to be true leaders, there is no fear in losing power when corrections are made in the name of truth.  Truth makes leaders better.  Besides, if it did not make leaders better, why would you or I seek to exercise leadership in the first place?  Expediency reduces reputation.  Always remember, there is no such thing as a leader who has only himself or herself to follow.

In closing, let me challenge us to be leaders who are:



Bold and Brave






If you develop and practice these leadership traits, and these become the foundation of your choices, do these things, you cannot but help to be a leader concerned with ethics.

After all, it would be unethical not to be.

Thank you!

Psychology and Jury Decisions

9 Jul

Here we are, just having come off the media-blitzed Anthony Trial.  Somewhere between 80-90% of Americans polled, believed Casey Anthony murdered her toddler, Caylee.  Yet, after just a mere 11 hours of deliberations, the jury of her “peers” returned a verdict of “not guilty” to first-degree-murder, and a host of other charges, etc.  They did convict her, however, of several charges of lying to law enforcement.  Lies are cover-ups–unless one is a liar by nature–which then means a person has nothing to hide if lies become one’s “truth-to-live-by.”

Much of the nation that watched with interest were shocked at the Anthony jury-verdict.  Some of us were not shocked, and predicted the outcome.  I am in the camp of the latter, thank you very much.  However, I am not pleased.  Like many, I am torn between the disconnect between justice and legality.  This is especially prevalent in the criminal “justice” system whenever a person walks because of improper prosecution, or well-paid lawyers who know psychology.


Aside from the evidence that lacked a clear connection in the Anthony case–the kind needed to actually convict a young woman in Florida of killing her child–there was a lot more taking place in the courtroom than the average person may know.

First, only two women in the history of Florida criminal justice system have been convicted of murder and sentenced to death.  These two women were hardened serial killers, and the evidence of multiple murders was against them.  There was no such “level” of evidence against Casey Anthony, which is why I predicted acquittal.

Second, psychology was present in the courtroom, as a replacement for DNA and other evidence.  This stratagem was skillfully used by the defense team, and born out of research of juries of the past–the Orenthal James Simpson case being one of these.  Jury consultants were brought in and with them, so too was psychology.

Third, there was strategy.  Consider the following strategy.  Defense attorney Baez admitted his client was a liar right at the beginning of his opening statement.  This is much more than a lawyer’s admission of his client’s nature.  Baez seized the psyches of the jurors.  Baez also claimed Anthony was sexually abused by her father, and that Caylee died of an accidental drowning.  See the picture?  “LIAR + ABUSE = ACCIDENT.”  Was there evidence for any of this?  Hardly.  Was there supposed to be evidence for this?  Not really.  Why then did Baez use extraneous things in his opening in a very important capital murder trial?  The answer is in the “psychology” of it all.


The truth is that law-firms usually employ jury experts, so that they can understand the make up of a jury, based on their written surveys, voir dire, and body language.  The make-up of a jury is way beyond the qualification of an assembly of “peers.”  Lawyers are sometimes not the best judges of people, so they need help in that area.  Group dynamics have a psychological dynamic of their own.  Lawyers attempt to assemble juries which they consider subjective enough, and sympathetic enough to their arguments.  Jury selection and jury assembling is not random.  As a result, the qualification of “peerdom” for a defendant is quite inapplicable.  I say this with the larger cases in mind; the more impacting the case in the media, the more attention will be paid to psychology.  How peer-oriented is that?  Unfortunately, the average person is not privy to such counsel.  This is also a huge inequity in our system of justice.  The italicized phrase being somewhat of a legal conundrum–at least–a moral oxymoron at most!

Trial lawyer consultant, Jonathan Lytle Ph.D., writes the following in the Orange County (CA) Bar Association’s Lawyer Journal:

A familiar refrain from trial consultants is that attorneys should give the strongest possible opening statement.  Consultants grant so much weight to these first words partially based on intuition and anecdotal evidence, but also because actual scientific research supports them as a powerful tool.  An opening statement allows the attorney to provide the framework through which jurors view a case and process evidence.  Information that fits into the established framework is easily remembered.  Information that does not synch is discarded or distorted by jurors.  Research has demonstrated that jurors make their decisions early in a trial.  So, the faster an attorney can ge the jury on their side, the better.  (Lytle, July 2011, Orange County Lawyer, p. 28)


In other words, first impressions, whether fictional, false, or flamboyant are the psychological pictures from which a jury will begin processing what is to come.  This suggested picture is an attempt to create in a juror’s mind what psychologists refer to as “schemata,” a type of framework into which additional bits of information can be placed.

Juries are known to make up their minds early in a trial and then discard what does not fit into their framework, or schemata.  This is called “predecisional distortion.”  Lawyers are encouraged to take advantage of this distortion in alignment with the order of evidence presentation.  The presentation of strongest points of opening and argument, aligned with strongest evidence creates the best-case for juries making up their minds prior to deliberation.

Every day in courts around this nation, attorneys use this reality to paint the prosecutorial, colorful canvas of conviction, or create doubt.  Inasmuch as one understand colors objectively, shades exist and there are layers of paint unseen on all canvases.  The same is true in the courtroom.

In the Anthony case, did not Baez create an unbelievable opening argument?  Did not the jury, throughout the trial, discard the outrageous claims and hold what they considered relevant?  The discards and irrelevancies are indicative that the jury had made up its mind rather quickly in the trial.  Their schemata had been established, due in large part to Baez’s opening statement.  Allow me to expand my point.  Experts, like Lytle, maintain that lawyers should “not leave the good stuff until the end” (p. 29).  Obviously, Baez and team took advantage of this advice.  It is pure psychology.

All things considered, Americans are upset that Baez did not prove the story of what he said happened to Caylee.  Any time a child’s murder is at the center of a trial, it does something serious to the psyche of a nation.  But the truth of the matter is:  BAEZ DID NOT HAVE TO PROVE ANYTHING!  He knew full well, that in order to get the jury to arrive at “reasonable doubt,” all he had to do was use psychology of distortion and distraction to arrive at juror predecision.

Sure, like most Americans, I wish our system was more aggressive toward the accused–especially now that our culture has definitely become more dangerous and criminal.  But it is what it is.  We cannot expect perfection from a highly imperfect system that protects up-front, both the innocent and the evil.  What most of us resent is the acquittal of the evil.


Here are a few of the psychological ploys used by Baez.  First, everyone understands how important first-impressions are in all of all lives.  Lawyers, like the rest of us, never have a second-chance to make a first-impression.  First-impressions are what are what the average person relies on the most, in forming opinions.  Baez’s persona and words made a distinct first-impression.

Second, the creation of a story that is unbelievable utilizes what all psychology-experts call the “big-lie that is more believable than small lies strung together.”  Surround a “fish-story” with witnesses that cannot tell the truth, contradict each other, and create doubt of any veracity and consistency, is confusing to the human brain.  If a jury does not know what to believe, then such inconsistency creates doubt.  This is the way it is in the real-world.  Consider a child’s paramour.  If his or her life, recent actions and words are confusing to the parents, then we would probably going to doubt that such a relationship has any future.  Couple this doubt with possible in-laws that are devious by nature, and I don’t think for a moment that the average person would give a blessing to such a marital, or familial connection.  I know I would not.

Third, the human brain cannot operate in a vacuum.  It needs to categorize and come to  conclusions.  The average person does not have the mental toughness to remain in a vacuum for weeks.  Brains work to sift and decide.  As a result, “objectivity” of a jury is truly a notion beyond reality.  Long trials do next-to-nothing in arriving at truth, or to change a jury’s corporate mind.  The longer the trial went on, the more extraneous the information, the more disconnected the testimony, and the more it bolstered predecision on the part of the jury.


Humans take sides early on, then look for reasons to bolster their beliefs.  This happens in politics.  It happens in sports.  This also happens in marriages.  The average person is simply falling into the “comfort zone.”  We do it quickly and we do it comfortably.  Our brain needs closure.  Is this not why open-endings in movies, and in books, etc., really cause our emotions discomfort?  This is simply who we are, whether teenagers, or adults.  Our brains classify, sift, and decide.  When we allow a lawyer to determine the schemata into which evidence is placed, there is a distinct psychological advantage to the lawyer.  Baez used this to his advantage.


The use of psychology can also backfire.  Relying on public sympathies and idealism to reach a death penalty is all right for media attention.  But these same sympathies enter the courtroom with a jury that views a conviction as death sentence for a mid-20s, fresh-faced, weeping liar.  When the prosecution went for the capital-crime home run, their idealism got in the way.  Make no mistake about it. I believe someone killed the toddler.  I believe Casey had a hand in it, or did it herself.  But my belief is not evidence.  My belief is not objective.  My belief is subjective.  It is a fallacy to think that jurors make up their minds as objective humans.  This is not how life is lived.  The same thing can be argued about a relationship.  Allow me to explain.

If a person thinks another person is perfect, how long can that admission hold up before the humanity of the idolized becomes all too obvious.  Overlooking the imperfect means there is a boas, or subjectivity in the way of reality.  Furthermore, trying to prove perfection based on real-life circumstances is not a good strategy.  One would have to be deluded to believe another human is perfect, when the circumstances showed otherwise.  Being imperfect by circumstances does not mean a person is a murderer.


The prosecution used an “idealism” principle and it backfired.  The defense merely stated that to believe in the prosecution’s case would be to believe in something that did not exist, amidst the circumstances.  The Baez and team painted an unbelievable scenario of its own, essentially creating possibility to bolster predecision and bias.  Knowing that proof was not needed to back up its defense, Baez simply allowed jurors to believe early on that an accident was the possible cause of Caylee’s death.  He used psychology on them and allowed them to believe they were making up their own minds.  Realistically, can a jury possibly convict a woman to death if an accident killed the infant?  Bingo.  Case over.

The accident theory has already been put out as to why Juror #4 voted to acquit Anthony of the murder charges.  Baez used psychology to persuade the jury early on.  it obviously worked in on juror #4, and others, according to her.  That’s all it took to create reasonable doubt.  He bolstered the case for the defense by bringing in witnesses who tossed contradiction around like it was candy at Halloween.  Doubt plus doubt does not equal truth.  Unfortunately, either does it equate to justice for a dead toddler.  Nevertheless, once that was established, the trial was over.  The jury had made up its mind.  In the words of Lytle, “Asking the right questions will plant ideas in the jurors’ minds and begin to frame the case according to your position.”  (p. 29)  Lytle is quite astute.  Baez knew exactly what strategy to employ.


In closing, a few curious points warrant further investigative research on my part:

  1. What parts do political underpinnings of jurors, prosecutors, and defense attorneys play in the psychology of jury selection and ultimately jurors’ decision-making processes?
  2. Is it possible that the vast number of defense attorneys are Democrats, whereas it is the opposite, politically, for prosecutors?
  3. How much do lawyers rely on the “psychology of thought in connection to political sympathy” as an unspoken, underlying factor for jury selection?  How much does this affect jury decision-making?  [Is there any thing closer to the truth in politics than the axiom “Republicans and Democrats do not think alike and do not see the world through the same eyes.”]

Mixed Messages

12 May

Sometimes we use excuses as a means of sidestepping responsibility for actions, or words.  Blaming others is part of human nature for many.  We see this in our politicians blaming predecessors.  We see this in our children.  It appears in the media, and it is certainly found in the workplace.  Taking responsibility for things that we say and do just seems like something passe.  Today we are told that words and actions do not have to line up.  In fact, words are justification for ill-behavior and it is quite annoying.

Take, for example, the sign that was tacked to a tree near a Catholic convent:  “No trespassing!  Violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law–Sisters of Mercy.”  We call that a mixed message.  I cannot help but wonder how often we come across the same way, because of our words and actions.  I am sure it is pretty close to daily.

Nothing irks me more than the practice of hypocrisy, which is most likely why one political party bothers me so much.  Momentary, political expediency and vilification of anyone different is the practice.  Character assassinations and double standards are hypocritical and send mixed messages.  I think the height of this “mixed-message-syndrome” is found in the recent killing of Osama bin Laden.  Allow me to explain.

On the one hand, the president is against any technique that causes a terrorist to give up information to save lives.  Information given up through touch interrogation techniques yielded a booty of intelligence that lead to bin Laden.  Obama defines such techniques as torture.

I am sure the president would allow torture of a terrorist if his wife’s, or daughters’ lives were in jeopardy.  But all of that aside.  How can a person be so against a technique–torturous or not–and then be in favor of assassinating a terrorist and others in a raid?  We don’t torture, we just kill?  I call that a definite mixed message.

Politics aside, we struggle daily with the sending of mixed messages.  The root of this struggle is found in two areas of our human nature.  First, we value “self” over others and seek to hide things deleterious to our reputation.  We see this “saving our hides” attempt in the Garden of Eden story in Genesis.

Second, with power comes the ability to make certain of outcomes in one’s favor.  So, our words can be overridden by actions.  Both are hypocrisy at their core.  We find each of these problematic–both in our own lives and in the lives of people to whom we entrust power.

As an educator, I work in the trenches daily.  I am entrusted with power over many lives.  The moment I say one thing and do not follow-up with actions that align with my words, my students are quick to call me out on it–and rightly so!

I get quite frustrated with the media that does not hold our president accountable to his words and actions.  I wish I could get the same pass by those who hear and see me, but I can’t.  My power is limited and it is shared.

Power is addicting.  The more it is used, if combined with lessened public accountability, one begins to think he or she is actually right over time.  Therein lies to deception that comes with hypocrisy.  Promises are made and broken, and are not reported.    Controversies arise and are quelled.  Events are spun to sound like “truth.”  No wonder power can be so intoxicating.

The lasting truth about mixed messages and hypocrisy can be summed in double-mindedness.  It is quite clear that those of us who practice double-mindedness in words and deeds are “unstable in all our ways.”  (James 1:8)

Have you ever wondered why our chief executive says one thing, does another, confuses all of us with rhetoric, etc.?  Remember all the promises he made during his campaign just to get elected?  The truth is that he is unstable, due to shifting ideologies.  In other words, the anchor in his nature dangles just above the ocean floor.  There is no greater mixed message than what emerges from a messenger that believes dangling, unfixed anchors are actually evidence of positive change.

Power is best used when it is shared.  Power used to obtain more power is glorification of self.  “Do as I do, not as I say,” is a hypocrite’s mantra.

Know what I mean?

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