The power of vulnerability

Geoff Brown tweeted this TED video:

I wrote the other day about the pitfalls of labelling some emotions as “negative” and trying to avoid them. It’s interesting to see how Brené Brown explores similar territory and the challenge of being vulnerable.

She suggests that to be wholehearted is to be willing to be vulnerable, and lists some of the main ways we try to avoid vulnerability.

The first is to numb uncomfortable feelings:

we are the most indebt, obese addicted and medicated adult cohort in US history.

But you can’t numb emotion selectively. Numb fear and disappointment and you numb joy, gratitude and happiness. She argues that if you numb those, life loses purpose and meaning. (That links across to Kantor’s notion of the three languages of power, meaning and feeling and the way they are intertwined).

Some other ways to avoid vulnerability:

We fake certainty. I was particularly struck by her definition of blame as a way to discharge pain and discomfort

We perfect. We take fat from our butts and put in our cheeks.

We pretend that what we do doesn’t have an effect on people.

The effect of all of these is to disconnect us from others, setting up a vicious cycle of discomfort and avoidance.

The alternative is to embrace the mess and allow connection. Her line about children perhaps encapsulates her philosophy: instead of seeing them as perfect and trying to keep them that way, we could see them as imperfect and hardwired for struggle – and treat them as worth of our love and belonging in their imperfection and struggle.

Makes sense to me.

1 thought on “The power of vulnerability

  1. Dwight Towers

    Thanks for the heads up – she sounds v. smart. I was reading a Frances Moore Lappe book called “Getting a Grip” recently, and this section – on the dangers of (unacknowledged) fear struck me-

    Even more worrisome, if we fear we can’t handle conflict ourselves, we may be tempted to choose authoritarian, “strong man” leaders. In taking us to war in Iraq, I noticed that George W. Bush typically spoke about what “I” the president will do, but rarely about what we as citizens could do – reinforcing feelings of helplessness, the sense that all we can do is put our fate in his hands.

    As long as we don’t feel we have what it takes to face conflict, do we unconsciously hope authoritarians will squash conflict for us? Burmese Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi – who, for her pro-democracy heroism, has been brutalized by a military elite, held under house arrest for years, and is still in detention – shares this worry:

    “It is not power that corrupts, but fear,” Suu Kyi writes in Freedom from Fear. “Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”

    page 122


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