The following is my review of “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson.
I claim no equivalence to the individuals whos stories are shared in this moving book. But it did cause me to reflect more deeply on why I choose to surround myself with the people I do and pursue the work I do. In Stevensons words “We are all broken by something. We have all hurt someone and have been hurt. We all share the condition of brokenness even if our brokenness is not equivalent.“
“Just Mercy” is the story of Bryan Sevenson’s life of demonstrating how to be merciful and the great hope that that can bring.
I am often asked to reflect on the time and effort it takes to activate responsible behaviour, beyond the boundaries of an organisation. Particularly in the large organisations where there is no end of legacy systems and behaviours designed, it seems at times, to protect the organisation from being too closely connected to the whims and needs of the community beyond its employ. One story in this book stood out to me in this context. It was of a lady who had lost a family member to violent crime. In the process of bearing witness to the ‘justice’ delivered to the perpetrators she became aware of all the stones thrown at and by all the parties invoved this process. The result? More pain for everyone involved. So she now routinely visits the court to catch those stones without throwing any. Being there for any and all of those in the system who need a hug not to have stones thrown at them.
For me I aspire to be the stone catcher for the leaders I support. Leaders who are putting their heart and soul into transforming organisations into responsible global citizens comprised of individuals who contribute passionately and abundantly to the work they do.
Stevenson lives by a credo “Each of us is more than the worst thing we have done”. In Stevensons work this applies to individuals who are judged and in many cases condemed for a single poor decision, or in many cases for a perception that predjudice has projected on them. For me the same statement helps me articulate why I believe that the organisations who have objectively contributed the most damage to our planet are also those for whom I believe have the most to contribute in resolving the complex issues we face as a planet and as a community. For what more are organisations than a group of individuals. This is my passion.
“Václav Havel, the great Czech leader…said that “hope” was the one thing that people struggling in Eastern Europe needed during the era of Soviet domination. Havel had said that people struggling for independence wanted money and recognition from other countries; they wanted more criticism of the Soviet empire from the West and more diplomatic pressure. But Havel had said that these were things they wanted; the only thing they needed was hope. Not that pie in the sky stuff, not a preference for optimism over pessimism, but rather “an orientation of the spirit.” The kind of hope that creates a willingness to position oneself in a hopeless place and be a witness, that allows one to believe in a better future, even in the face of abusive power. That kind of hope makes one strong.”
The above passage was particularly poiniant for me in the context of the climate and biological emergency underpinned by the social crisis we face. I believe strongly in the role we all have in creating, consuming and disemminating information. People need hope. There is enough fear, uncertainty and blame hard-wired into our reptilian brains to save us from the sabre tooth tiger that may or may not be chasing us. We need to fight to protect hope. So choose what you consume. And choose how you will respond.
The most confronting element of “Just Mercy” is the statistics detailing the systematic incarceration of the poor, vunerable, mentally unwell and children. The system that I for one would expect to protect the innocent has been manipulated due to ignorance, bias and fear. As an Australian I intuitively know that the statistics, particularly for indigneous Australians, are similarly confronting. But I feel ill informed. Reading Stevensons expose of the American system has given me a determination to educate myself about incarceration in Australia. I don’t expect to feel comfortable about what I find. It is important to me to continue to challenge my preconceptions.
In conclusion if you’re looking for a dose of hope I would strongly recommend Stevensons inspiring page turning words. But expect to come away confronted if not outraged by a system we would all reasonably expect to protect us.
For more reading on the role of the media and what they are doing check out these pieces.