Of value: Saginaw County Circuit judge delivers TED talk at SVSU


By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

Over the course of a 34-year legal career, he has been an assistant city attorney, an assistant county prosecutor, a deputy police chief, the state “Drug Czar,” a district court judge, a circuit court judge, a book author, and now a “TED” talker.

The latest addition to the resume of Saginaw County Circuit Judge Darnell Jackson was inserted last month when he delivered a speech at Saginaw Valley State University on “The Value of Human Worth.” The speech was part of the independently run TEDx events that “help share ideas in communities around the world.”

TED – short for Technology, Entertainment, and Design – is a nonprofit organization founded in 1984 that believes in the “power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world,” according to its mission. The vehicle for change comes principally in the form of “short, powerful talks,” generally 18 minutes or less.

“I was honored to be invited to be part of the TED talk series,” Judge Jackson said. “The talks have provided a lot of food for thought since they began years ago.”

In his opening remarks to the audience at SVSU, Jackson took the TED talk speech guidelines to heart, telling those gathered that “as Elizabeth Taylor said to her eighth husband, ‘I won’t be with you long.’”

The quip set the stage for an “inquiry” into the knotty question about “human worth.” The topic for the talk, explained Jackson, came from a high school senior whose class assignment involved writing a paper on the subject.

“She was totally stumped by the question and so was I, at first,” he admitted. “After some reflection, I told her I thought I had the answer. She said, ‘Well can you hurry up and tell me because the assignment is due tomorrow!’”

In his search for enlightenment on the topic, Jackson said he “went to where everyone else goes these days for answers to tough questions” – the Internet.

“I researched it. I Googled it. I Yahooed it. . . Finally, out of desperation, I even Webster Dictionaried it,” he said with smile. “I found all of them woefully lacking in what I considered to be a meaningful definition of ‘human worth.’ I realized that in order for me to be satisfied, I needed to somehow define it for myself.

“I concluded that a working definition of human worth is, ‘the conscious decision to compassionately do something that has a positive impact upon another.’”

He underscored the importance of “compassionately,” noting that “certain things like courtesy and respect never go out of style and remain despite everything else that changes around us. It’s your human worth that you bring to your job or to your relationships every day that impacts the lives of others.”

As a Circuit Court judge since 2006, Jackson said “understanding” and “compassion” are two qualities he tries to bring to his job each day.

“When someone comes in front of me as a judge, they’re likely having a bad day,” Jackson told the SVSU audience. “Those who filed the complaint and those who answered it would really rather not be there. And so it is with doctors or dentists.
“Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, ‘I’m just so delighted that I have this legal issue that requires me to go see the judge . . . Nobody.”

And yet, when faced with complainants in court, Jackson said he is “required to provide them with service that addresses their needs,” helping them “find solutions to the problems they face.”

Along those lines, he said, “there are some of us who still believe that we were put here to help others. As I like to say, ‘I can go anywhere to make a paycheck . . . I want to go somewhere to make a difference.’”

A Wayne State Law grad, Jackson last year published a book chronicling the “ups and downs” of his life. Titled, “The Steps of a Good Man: A Journey to Today,” the 168-page book was an “off and on project” over a four-year period, according to Jackson. It was squeezed in during nights and weekends in addition to his teaching assignments with the National Judicial Institute on Domestic Violence as well as the National Judicial College in Reno, Nev.

“Whenever I had an idea for the book, I would jot down notes on napkins, envelopes, and the like,” said Jackson. “Many times I would wake up in the middle of the night with a point I wanted to convey or a story I wanted to be told in the book. That was part of the fun in writing the book, never knowing quite when the creative juices would start flowing.”

His first foray into the world of self-publishing may spawn another book, he said, and undoubtedly will include more speaking engagements along the way, where he hopes to share thoughts about “satisfaction” in life.

“If you want to have life satisfaction, you must effectively deal with distractions, challenges, and regrets,” Jackson said in his TED talk. “Then you can obtain the full value of your human worth, and make things better for yourself and others.”