I am deeply affected by the news: images of violence, injustice and suffering stay with me. I could turn away or avoid watching. Instead, each time I see poverty and injustice in our world, each time I see news of a mass shooting or an act of violence, I try to remind myself of the human element within these stories. I remind myself that the perpetrators of crime, those who demonstrate hate, those who seem ignorant, they too have stories. They too were once children on a playground. And sadly, many of these perpetrators have been victims of violence, hate and ignorance themselves.
Does this cycle of abuse, or of ignorance, excuse their behaviour? Certainly, no. But it does give us some perspective.
This summer I read the book Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. He is a lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice that defends the poor, the disabled, the wrongly condemned. One afternoon as I was nearing the end of the book, I found myself in tears. I was moved by the determination of this lawyer who continues to act with compassion and mercy despite the ongoing obstacles he faces and the unthinkable inhumanities he witnesses. It would be easy to say, “Someone else can do it. Someone else can make the difference.”
But despite everything, he forges on. “The power of just mercy is that it belongs to the undeserving. It’s when mercy is least expected that it’s most potent – strong enough to break the cycle of victimization and victimhood, retribution and suffering” (Stevenson, 2014, p 294).
I’m not a lawyer. I can’t do what he is doing. But I can do my part in my circle of influence. I can give value and voice to those I teach. I can educate with love and compassion. I can provide insight into alternative ways of being through literature and by example. Perhaps the connections I make with my students will provide hope and purpose in an otherwise desolate situation.
Jack Canfield says: “Every day we have the opportunity to make a positive impact. No matter how great or how small, you can make a difference.” I am uplifted by the potential of our collective actions!