The word ‘mercy’ has its origins in French as well as old English. It means to grant forgiveness to the seemingly undeserving. In his book Just Mercy, Brian Stevenson writes, “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.”
For our Book Club this semester, I chose Just Mercy. It was a solid pick because I love this idea of mercy. The way one person can forgive another without having an apology, without reason, without a solid why. What would this world look like if we all were willing to bestow mercy on others? So often in our society we call for a reason to do something, anything. Forgiveness does not come easily to many. In our hate now, ask questions later world, the idea of forgiving another’s wrongdoing seems tantamount to a crime in itself.
When I speak to my students about mercy, they tend be confused. The say that mercy is weakness. They seem to believe that those who show mercy will pay for it later. Perhaps there was a part of me that felt the same way. Well, this was until I read Stevenson’s book.
He is a criminal defense attorney who founded the Equal Justice Initiative and created a legal practice “dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly condemned, and those trapped in the furthest reaches of our criminal justice system.” Full disclosure, I copied that off of the back of his book because it is just too good.
I was about eighty-eight pages when I had to put the book down because I was sobbing uncontrollably. The stories in this book have literally touched my soul and given me pause.
My favorite quote from the book is the following: “There is a strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness, because embracing our brokenness creates a need and desire for mercy, and perhaps a corresponding need to show mercy. When you experience mercy, you learn things that are hard to learn otherwise. You see things you can’t otherwise see; you hear things you can’t otherwise hear. You begin to recognize the humanity that resides in each of us.”
As an Empath, I feel like mercy should be easy for me, but this is not always true. When I hear about a terrible crime, my instincts are anything but merciful. I want the criminal to pay. Stevenson’s book showed me the punishment I was asking for in all its horrible cruelty and ruthlessness, and now I cannot unsee it.
I highly recommend this book, not only because of its clear understanding of the complexities of our justice system, but also for its powerful message for all of humanity. Who are we if we are able to treat the poor, mentally ill, the incarcerated, the mentally challenged, and the condemned like this?
Love and Light…