A few days ago, I listened to Bryan Stevenson and Krista Tippet on the podcast On Being. If you’re not familiar with Bryan Stevenson, he’s the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama and Aronson Family Professor of Criminal Justice at New York University School of Law.
His mission of making the world a better place by serving those in mass incarceration and on death row is so necessary.
As I was listening to this interview, I was really struck by how Stevenson talks about his clients being more than the worst thing that they’ve done.
And I do talk a lot, obviously, about my clients; those are the people I have to advocate for, and when I say that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done, I am thinking specifically about them, but I’m also thinking about everybody else. I believe that for every human being.Bryan Stevenson in conversation with Krista Tippet
Can you imagine a world where we see people as more than the worst thing they’ve ever done?
Like, can you see someone that our society labels murderer as more than that?
Can you see them as a human deserving of love?
This is my last write up of 2020, and it’s been a helluva year.
For reasons beyond just covid-19, life as most of us know it has been reflected back to us in ways we didn’t necessarily want to see.
I believe Stevenson’s message of more than that comes home to us, as we live life day in and out.
For instance, I struggle often with feeling like I’m nothing more than what I’m feeling at the time.
I’m feeling lost, I’m lost.
I’m feeling depressed, I’m depressed.
I’m feeling unworthy, I’m unworthy.
I’m feeling grief, I am grief.
What if you were more than your worst feeling?
It’s a really tricky thing, to be human, isn’t it?
Because culturally we are defined by these sets of knowing (which are usually binary). Wife/husband, worker, mother/father, good/bad, kind/mean. In Bryan Stevenson’s work: worthy of life/unworthy of life.
And then, we absorb that as who we are — based on what we get told about who we are.
We then tell ourselves who we are, and maybe our feelings reflect that.
Or maybe our feelings tell us who we are.
Again, this tricky thing of being human.
Yet, what if you were more than this?
Whatever this is…pandemic depressed. Covid confined life. Unmotivated and overwhelmed. Grief stricken.
What if you were more than this?
Who would you be? What would you know about yourself?
For me, the practice begins with the statement to interrupt the thoughts:
I’m more than this. I’m more than this. I’m more than this.
A few days ago I was caught in a loop of thought where I was questioning the outcome of a few things in my life. I kept telling myself:
if I had just chosen that way, it would’ve been different.
if I had just waited for a certain amount of time before doing _____, then things would’ve been different.
Can you relate to that thought? It’s one that comes up for me when I’m under stress, and feel anxiety.
I kept interrupting myself during this train of thoughts with the words:
I’m more than this.
Does it work?
After a few days, I feel a relief from feeling like I was nothing more than a person who makes mistakes.
Tell me, beloved, what do you think would change for you if you trust yourself to know you are more than this one thing you think you are?
May that support you as we welcome the end of this dark season, a new year, a new day.