Do you feel, or have you ever felt broken?
Maybe the feeling comes from a relationship that ended, a job lost, the death or loss of a loved one, or feeling alone, misunderstood, and inadequate in such a vast and unforgiving world.
Maybe it comes from the stress of not knowing how you will pay the bills or feed your family, or from rejection by your society simply for being different, or maybe from the hate and racism you see and feel around you every single day of your life, for no reason other than the way you look.
Maybe it comes from feeling lost and purposeless in a world or a culture that refuses to slow down to allow you to feel things, examine your life, and make changes.
Maybe you regret the way you have spoken to or treated someone, or the way you hurt someone you care about a lot. Feeling broken comes not only from what has happened to us, but what we’ve done to others.
If you answered yes to any of the above, or perhaps something came to mind that I did not mention…how often do you admit your brokenness to people — if ever?
I know I’ve allowed myself to feel broken before in silence, for mixed reasons.
For starters, it’s terrifying to admit to yourself. To say “I am broken” is to feel like there is something wrong with you. Most of the time we feel broken, we don’t label it that, even in our inner dialogue with ourselves for fear of what it means or says about us.
It’s also terrifying to admit to others.
What if people see me as weak?
What if they critique me or tear me down rather than validate my feelings and show me compassion, love and understanding?
Even if you don’t actively think or recognize these thoughts, it’s likely you subconsciously do. It’s in our nature.
We’ve been conditioned to believe that not only do we gain nothing from sharing, it can actually cause us harm.
There is another aspect to my silence. Recently, I’ve found myself reflecting on all the moments in my life where I’ve felt broken by something or felt truly hurt, but denied myself the chance to truly feel those emotions because other people around me and around the world are facing much more insurmountable problems. They have legitimate reasons to hurt. My reasons aren’t valid.
I thought–maybe not directly, but my actions seemed to say — that the only way to truly respect the hurting experienced by others was to silence my own. When I say silence, I mean my refusal to speak about what I was feeling, choosing only to listen, empathize and support, and figure out my own sh*t later by myself.
But I’ve come to realize over the years that that’s not true empathy. It doesn’t fully help heal the pain others feel, and it sure as hell doesn’t help heal my own.
Let me make one thing super clear. Listening is a hugely important foundation. None of what I’ve written aims to invalidate listening. If you don’t listen and do your best to understand someone, you’ll get nowhere.
But there is an aspect of sharing that is missing.
While I’ve provided some of my own reasons, everyone has their own. They may not be the same, but our mutual brokenness unites us whether we discuss it or not. Whether we realize it or not.
Bryan Stevenson articulates this idea very well through powerful stories told in his book Just Mercy.
For those who may not be familiar with Bryan Stevenson, he is an American lawyer, social justice activist, and founder/executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization founded in 1989 that is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.
I’m not one to include very long quotes in my writing but in this case, he writes so eloquently about being broken and what it means for humanity, that I couldn’t cut any of it out (He basiscally sums up all of what I’ve said in a few short sentences 😂).
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.
The ways in which I have been hurt—and have hurt others—are different from the ways Jimmy Dill [an Equal Justice Initiative case. Jimmy was executed in 2009 despite Alabama’s failure to provide him adequate legal help] suffered and caused suffering. But our shared brokenness connected us.
Paul Farmer, the renowned physician who has spent his life trying to cure the world’s sickest and poorest people, once quoted me something that the writer Thomas Merton said: We are bodies of broken bones. I guess I’d always known but never fully considered that being broken is what makes us human. We all have our reasons. Sometimes we’re fractured by the choices we make; sometimes we’re shattered by things we would never have chosen.
But our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing. Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion.Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy
There is so much more Bryan has to share with us, that I’m strongly considering a second post on this topic that expands upon the ideas presented here and goes deeper into how our brokenness affects us on a societal level.
But in terms of our personal lives and relationships, we have a choice. It’s important to listen, but it’s also important to share our vulnerabilities and create safe spaces to talk about our shared brokenness that unites us as humans. We must embrace that we won’t have equivalent experiences, but acknowledge the value of sharing them anyway.
“We have a choice. We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing. Or we can deny our brokenness, forswear compassion, and, as a result, deny our own humanity.”Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy