I was recently introduced to the work of Bryan Stevenson. He is a well known attorney, he represents people who are on Death Row. He sees humans at their darkest, in the very depths of despair and sorrow. The concept of mercy is profound. He opened my eyes to a new way of looking at mercy and how it works.
“Mercy, is for those who don’t deserve it.” – Bryan Stevenson
Mercy is the gift of forgiveness, given to someone who seemingly doesn’t deserve to be forgiven. In my work I too see many people who believe they are undeserving of forgiveness. Bryan’s definition of Mercy transcends this.
If you truly think about it, being deserving of forgiveness isn’t really the qualifier for who should be forgiven. If that were the case, would anyone really be deserving of forgiveness?
“Simply punishing the broken—walking away from them or hiding them from sight—only ensures that they remain broken and we do, too. There is no wholeness outside of our reciprocal humanity.” -Bryan Stevenson
Punishment teaches nothing. It only reinforces the negative beliefs we have about ourselves. In our fear, we have cast out the most broken of us and hide them from our sight. Have we forgotten our humanity? Since when do we get to be judge and jury of who belongs where? Judgment is crippling us. We remain broken along with those who we hide and walk away from, those we cast out.
In our brokenness we seek what we believe to be true. We look for ways to reinforce what we already believe. We look for evidence to support our own theories, whether they are factual or false.
This is the case with criminals, especially with addicts. We have deemed addiction an “evil” and believe men and women are bad and look for evidence to prove our theories. In doing so we have over 2.3 million Americans behind bars right now. And as a result we do it to ourselves. In our own lives, we look for evidence to support our belief that we don’t belong either
The ever inspiring Brene Brown teaches us in her latest work:
Judgment is what keeps us all apart. Judgment leaves us fragmented and broken, we judge others constantly based on fractions of the truth. And what’s worse? We judge ourselves even more harshly. We compare ourselves to others constantly, ending up on the bottom of a weighty self belief that we are worthless. This is the scourge of our society. This is shame. Believing that we are worthless, less than, not enough.
Shame plagues us all. I see this every day. People broken by child abuse believing they don’t belong, look for evidence to support this theory. All the while pleading for another chance, hoping that maybe they can just survive another day. And what do we do? We reinforce their worst fear by casting them out. And they, like us, believe they are at fault; they did something to cause the horrific atrocities the experienced as children. The downtrodden of our society believe they are less than, and we cast them out, look down on them, and lock them away. When are we going to understand just how important mercy is? Will enough judgement ever be cast that we can begin to forgive?
It seems that today, it takes a celebrity suicide or other fatal tradegy for us to jump to social media to call to one another. We send thoughts and prayers, but how shallow of an attempt is that? I recognize the effort, I do, but can’t we do more? What about those who live in the dark, who we don’t see? These are the most broken among us. We need to change the way we live. Instead of casting out what we don’t understand, it’s time we love what looks a little different than us.
Ghandi taught, “The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but it is fear.” We fear what we don’t understand, and we cast it out. When someone commits a crime, he/she is desperate enough to do so. Desperation does strange things to people, when we cast those we don’t understand out of our society, we increase desperation and thus increase crime. As a society we have decided to leave the desperate with no options and they are forced into living as less than and outcasts.
The courage to be compassionate and merciful comes from understanding and empathy. This, we find in our hearts.
If we go into our hearts and think for a moment how someone who is “not like us” lives, things begin to change. We can imagine what someone has to do to just survive, we begin to understand why they do what they do. This is how we gain compassion for others. And more importantly we are more compelled to show mercy for each other. And as we do so maybe, we too, can learn to show a little more compassion and mercy for ourselves. It’s worth a shot.