The Broken Among Us Teach Us

Bryan Stevenson

Reading by Liz Helgesen (Download file)

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What sustains me is this knowledge I have that it’s really the broken among us that can contribute a lot to our quest for full, equal justice. When you’re broken, you actually — you know something about what it means to be human. You know something about grace. You learned something about mercy. You learned something about forgiveness. It’s the broken among us that can teach us some things. And knowing that you don’t have to be perfect and complete gives you a way of moving through challenge that would be hard if you think that that’s not something that’s possible.

And so I tell my young staff, you can’t do this work, you can’t be in some of the painful places we’re in, you can’t hold children who’ve been abused, and not be impacted by that. You’re going to shed some tears. You are. And you’re gonna be overwhelmed, you’re going to get tired, you’re gonna get pushed down — all of those things are going to happen, and it doesn’t mean you’re weak. It doesn’t mean that you’re not up to the task. It doesn’t mean you’re incompetent or incapable. It just means you’re a human being. And that’s what I want: I want human beings.

And so what sustains me is, in part, this knowledge that I can’t always feel confident and sure and clear; that there are gonna be times when it’s uncertain what’s going to happen. And I’ve tried to appreciate that.

And I do feel, at times, lifted up by the spirit of people who have endured way more. I talked to John Lewis just before he passed away, and it was such an honor knowing him. And I was just saying to him, “I feel so privileged, as a result of what you did.” And I told him, “I’ve had hard days; I get death threats and all that kind of stuff. But I’ve never had to say, ‘My head is bloodied but not bowed,’ like you did.” And when you realize that those injuries created spaces that some of us could occupy, that were a little less violent, you begin to appreciate what you can do.

Bryan Stevenson is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. Above excerpted from On Being.

Seed questions for reflection: How do you relate to the notion that the broken among us can teach us what it means to be human? Can you share a personal story of a time you were able to embrace imperfection with an open heart? What helps you welcome uncertainty?

Add Your Reflection:

9 Previous Reflections:

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    On Jan 14, 2021 Guru Raj wrote:
    The context or focus of this piece is on change-agents gathering themselves in the face of difficult odds and persevering despite their all too human reactions engendering some dis-empowerment. It is quite inspiring and true.
    When "broken-ness" is taken out to a wider context, it occurred to me that the abusive boss, the megalomaniac leader, the rapacious businessman or any person in power in various situations behaving unconsciously - are too all "broken" in a way. The only difference is that they acquire or get to keep some material or psychological advantage over the other "broken" persons. Most of us will find ourselves switching between these positions - oppressor and the oppressed - in small ways.
    I have found it valuable to see this dynamic and keep working to get an acceptance and equanimity and in-the-moment awareness and responsiveness. It is a long scale of evolution and much patience is needed.

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    On Jan 13, 2021 Ragunath Padmanbhan wrote:
    Well, The Broken Among Us has a static-truth to it. Yet, to think that they can contribute more than the yet-to-be broken is a reactive perspective. It is skillful to share this perspective with the broken among us for a limited time until they rebuild and come stronger out of their brokenness. To hold space for that rebuilding to happen is more important than continuing to amplify the advantages of the brokenness which goes in the same direction as glorifying poverty or any other inequality. The mere experience of suffering does not automatically make a person wise. Yes, it makes the quest for wisdom more urgent. But for that quest to make progress, wholesome people and spaces are inevitable. I am reminded of what Bo Lozoff said (as a guest speaker at Chromite) in response to someone asking him where he thought the world was heading. He said, "It is all going to get much worse. When that happens, it is places like this (Awakin) and the people in it who will become the refuge for... [View Full Comment] Well, The Broken Among Us has a static-truth to it. Yet, to think that they can contribute more than the yet-to-be broken is a reactive perspective. It is skillful to share this perspective with the broken among us for a limited time until they rebuild and come stronger out of their brokenness. To hold space for that rebuilding to happen is more important than continuing to amplify the advantages of the brokenness which goes in the same direction as glorifying poverty or any other inequality. The mere experience of suffering does not automatically make a person wise. Yes, it makes the quest for wisdom more urgent. But for that quest to make progress, wholesome people and spaces are inevitable.

    I am reminded of what Bo Lozoff said (as a guest speaker at Chromite) in response to someone asking him where he thought the world was heading. He said, "It is all going to get much worse. When that happens, it is places like this (Awakin) and the people in it who will become the refuge for all who are suffering."

    I think the broken among us who have managed to heal and have become whole again can contribute more than the ones who are not yet broken or remain broken.

    I think it is good to feature such readings because they can invite a higher truth than what they point to provided there is an understanding among the readers that these readings are not intended to promote a view but to encourage conceiving better views.[Hide Full Comment]

    2 replies: Manoj, Guru | Post Your Reply
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    On Jan 9, 2021 David Doane wrote:
    We're all broken and wounded, some minimally and some very much. People can gain valuable and deep wisdom from being broken and wounded, and we can learn from their experience. Having worked with broken for years, I agree you can't not be impacted -- it's important also to have clear boundaries and take care of yourself or you're not of much good to the other and will likely burn out quickly. I embrace imperfection with an open heart when I care and relate to what is present and not to assumptions, expectations, prejudices, predictions, or preconceptions about what is present. What helps me welcome uncertainty is knowing that uncertainty is all there is. We live in uncertainty. It is always uncertain what is going to happen, and I am more content accepting that than fighting or denying it.

    1 reply: Beverly | Post Your Reply
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    On Jan 8, 2021 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
    We as human beings are imperfect and we all have gone through trying and hard times. Life is not always a bed of roses. It has also sharp thorns. It hurts. There have been times when my heart has been broken. My dreams were shattered. I have learned the value of wholeness from my brokenness. Heart breaks have taught me how to heal my wounds, recover myself, and lift myself up from the falls.Suffering is human. How do we face it and what do we learn from it is up to us. I have gone through many difficult situations and have learned lessons from them. There were times when I felt heavy weight of emotional pain. Where there was a little light and I did not know how to walk on the the dark lanes of my life. Being with people who have endured hard times in theirlives and their empathic understanding, supportand kindness helpedme emerge from the blinding darkness. Going through difficult times in my life made me understand my own suffering and suffering of others. The words of John Lewis ar... [View Full Comment] We as human beings are imperfect and we all have gone through trying and hard times. Life is not always a bed of roses. It has also sharp thorns. It hurts. There have been times when my heart has been broken. My dreams were shattered. I have learned the value of wholeness from my brokenness. Heart breaks have taught me how to heal my wounds, recover myself, and lift myself up from the falls.Suffering is human. How do we face it and what do we learn from it is up to us.

    I have gone through many difficult situations and have learned lessons from them. There were times when I felt heavy weight of emotional pain. Where there was a little light and I did not know how to walk on the the dark lanes of my life. Being with people who have endured hard times in theirlives and their empathic understanding, supportand kindness helpedme emerge from the blinding darkness. Going through difficult times in my life made me understand my own suffering and suffering of others. The words of John Lewis are very inspiring: " My head is blooded but not bowed."

    Knowing that there is no certainty in life and accepting it and doing the best I can has been very helpful to me. Reading the stories of people who have gone through hard times in their lives and how they uplifted themselves also have been very helpful to me. Daily practice of Meditation has always helped meremain grounded and calm. Acceptingthe reality of life, having faith in the the higher power, and placing myself in the Divine hands has been my way of going through the ups and downs in life.
    Namaste!
    Jagdish P Dave'

    [Hide Full Comment]

    2 replies: Beverly, Angelie | Post Your Reply

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