Brokenness, Judgment, Compassion, and Kinship

One of my heroes, Father Greg Boyle, of Homeboy Industries has said, “The true measure of our compassion lies not in our service to people on the margins, but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them.” This requires a deep understanding and acceptance of our own brokenness or, as one of Father Greg’s “homies,” former gang member Jose, says, ““How can I help the wounded if I don’t welcome my own wounds?”

My work as Director of the RMO for Returning Citizens is with people who have been wounded in countless ways, by poverty, addiction, mental illness, incarceration, trauma. They are demonized and marginalized by the rest of society. For longer than I’d like to admit, I’ve been operating under the delusion that to serve them effectively, I need to be a pillar of strength and model of someone who has things pretty well figured out.

The core messages of my childhood were: “What’s done is done. No point rehashing the past. Get over it and move on.” “Don’t air your dirty laundry.” “Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.”  

These messages have steeped me in what Brene Brown calls the “myth of self sufficiency.” In “The Gifts of Imperfection”, she writes, “It’s as if we’ve divided the world into ‘those who offer help’ and ‘those who need help.’ The truth is that we are both . . . Until we can receive with an open heart, we’re never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help.”

I’ve finally come to understand that in my work, I often attach judgment to “helping” people coming out of prison because I have NOT come to a full understanding of my own brokenness and my own need for help.

When I first heard Brene Brown’s TED talks on vulnerability and shame, I identified deeply with her admitted perfectionism and belief in self-sufficiency, her desire to plan, control and avoid vulnerability (aka “weakness”). But when she said her research shows that vulnerability is essential to creativity, joy and authentic connection and that being vulnerable is our most accurate measure of courage, it was a sobering wake-up call for me.

So last summer, I applied for, and was blessed and grateful to receive, a Baldwin Fellowship from the Lancaster County Community Foundation. As part of my Baldwin project, since September, I have been delving deeply into childhood trauma and how it affects connection, health, and mental health.

I’m now preparing for the next major phase of my Baldwin project: a trip to Oregon, Washington and Alberta, Canada, to visit several trauma-informed communities to develop a deeper understanding of how a broad-based, cross-sector “Trauma-Informed Community” approach could fundamentally change our schools, healthcare, community-benefit organizations, justice system, and entire community.

I hope the insights from the trauma-informed communities I visit may help us move toward becoming a trauma-informed community here in Lancaster – a place of true compassion and kinship.

As I prepare for this trip, and throughout my travels, I will be posting updates about what I’m learning along the way – about trauma, brokenness, judgment, compassion, and kinship. So, stay tuned…

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Author: melaniegsnyder

Melanie G. Snyder serves as the Director of the RMO for Returning Citizens – a prisoner-reentry initiative that improves community safety by helping people transitioning out of prison get access to the services and treatment they need to lead whole, healthy and crime-free lives. She is a consultant to a number of newly forming prisoner reentry coalitions in other regions and states. Melanie is the author of Grace Goes to Prison: An Inspiring Story of Hope and Humanity (http://www.brethrenpress.com/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=1497) and has given a TEDx talk titled “Breaking Out of Prison Thinking” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQ_B1g6o_Co) Melanie is a certified instructor for the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Healing Communities model, a National Institute of Corrections certified Offender Workforce Development Specialist, and a SAMHSA-certified instructor for their trauma-informed criminal justice training. She is currently a Baldwin Fellow with the Lancaster County Community Foundation, focusing on trauma and trauma-informed care, and has conducted trainings on trauma, ACEs and related topics for numerous groups across Pennsylvania.

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