The Quality Of Mercy.

(image via

Like so many of you, I am incredibly saddened today by the deaths of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

I’ve felt very torn about it in recent weeks.

Luckily, I’ve not seen the memes and comments that I know have been circulating – people angry, baying for blood, supporting the execution.I am lucky not to have such commentary pop up in my orbit, although I know those voices are noisy.

Rather, I’ve been initially confused and latterly moved by the outpouring of sympathy I saw for Myuran and Andrew.

These two men willingly organised and participated in illegal activity in a country that clearly warned of the death penalty. The drugs they smuggled had the potential to ruin many lives, even to kill. Stories of the boys as younger men painted pictures of them that set off all my red flags: Andrew was a ‘bully’ at school. Myuran studied mixed martial arts and was said to have an ‘explosive’ temper.

I couldn’t understand the sympathy. I couldn’t get on board. Even though I would  never have publicly voiced support for their execution – anybody’s execution – I also didn’t publicly support my many, many friends who voiced their sympathy either. I just stayed out of the debate.

I talked to my mum, who is so compassionate, and who stood for mercy. I tried to understand her position but I could not get past the fact that they went willingly. They were the architects of their own destiny.  They chose the behavior that ended in the predicted result. They were…bad boys. I felt uncomfortable with how we all seemed to be enforcing our values, our laws upon another sovereign nation. I quietly wrestled with my feelings.

Today, I am so sad.

I see things differently.

They were clearly such lost boys, Andrew and Myuran. Stories of both their early lives are similar in tales of aimlessness,  drugs and oblivion-seeking,  an inability to fit easily into the world around them. They were unformed and troubled.  They were, in fact, like many of us at that age. In neurological terms, the frontal cortex is not fully developed until about age 25, and the last of the higher functions to develop are critical – a sense of maturity in judgement; insight; a sense of consequences.

Who among us didn’t so stupid stuff at twenty three? Make awful decisions? Just get away with stuff by the skin of our teeth?

The behavior of Andrew and Myuran in jail demonstrates a maturity and responsibility that were there, latent, yet to show themselves at the time of their arrest. Yes, they did huge social damage in their early lives. But in the ten years since, they showed themselves capable of good judgement, of remorse, and of responsibility and insight. In fact, as their adult personalities emerged, Andrew was a empathetic and kind spiritual leader to others in the jail, and Myuran was an astonishingly accomplished artist.

‘Success is cumulative,’ said Myurna to his cousin Dharminie Mani (via ‘No one wakes up successful. It takes hard work behind the scenes where no one else can see. It starts when you set yourself goals, you make sure you do something small everyday.’

Their deaths achieve nothing (other than some diplomatic difficulty yet to play out.) But their lives were, over the last ten years, achieving much, even in jail. How much more could they have offered as mentors, pastors, artists and cautionary tales, had they not been killed yesterday?

I feel heartsick for their families, and I am glad to be Australian today, where the overwhelming voices of our politicians and public speakers confirms that we are not cruel. We believe in redemption. We have compassion for the fact that people can make mistakes, and we believe that they can change. We are willing to operate within the grey area. We do not kill.

With all respect for the sovereignty of Indonesa, and the irrefutable fact that these two boys broke its laws and should be subject to their legal system, the death penalty is barbaric and utterly pointless. Joko Widodo had the opportunity to demonstrate compassion and vision this week, and he chose, instead, to kill.

“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” ~ Mahatma Ghandi

Vale, Andrew and Myuran. May your deaths be a catalyst for change to this brutal system.