Brene Brown is known for her storytelling and research on big ideas like vulnerability (on which she gave a widely watched TED talk) and for her books on the topic of courage and failure like “Rising Strong.” I re-watched Brown’s TED talk on topic of vulnerability today after situating myself in the most comfortable spot in my home in hopes of catching the inspiration I needed to write this.
I was passively listening while searching for a quote on kindness that I remembered from the talk. Kindness to yourself leads to kindness to other people? Something like that. But by the time I noticed that the entire speech was transcribed, tears were streaming down my face from the sheer “aha” of it all.
Originally, I set out to write about being generous with each other as we all cope in our own ways – hiding from social media, pretending everything is fine, reading/sharing all of the news ever, cooking stupid-elaborate meals (me, that one is me), crying because all we want is for our kids to have an hour of circle time, doing three online workouts each day. And while that’s an important message, I couldn’t catch the wave of inspiration I usually need to write.
All at once, I was able to define a feeling that’s been in the air for the past few weeks: a unifying sense of vulnerability. And if you’ve read any of Brown’s work, you already know that according to her research, vulnerability is the actual key to connection.
When Brown stumbled on this finding, she was researching the difference between those who believe they are worthy of love and connection and those who don’t. She came to define those who believe they’re worthy as the “whole-hearted.” She said, “They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful … as a result of authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were.”
In history, there have been large-scale moments of shared trauma and shared vulnerability before – war, famine, tragedy. But I’ve never experienced a shared experience like this as an adult human responsible for my own survival.
The shared nature of this trauma is what makes it a unique moment in history. We’re all leveled in similar ways – separated from the things that defined us a month ago. We’re separated from our colleagues, our friends, our gyms, our religious institutions, our businesses, our schools, and the people who help us care for and educate our kids. We’re seeing public declarations of “this is hard,” “I’m afraid,” or “I don’t know what to do.”
“I know that vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love,” Brown said.
When you encounter vulnerability, you’re witnessing a very brave decision. Here’s how to participate.
Bite the line when it’s baited with vulnerability. When someone says, “I’m afraid,” “This is hard,” or “I don’t know what to do,” that’s your moment. Ask this question: Do you need solutions, a listening ear, or none of the above?
Reaching out to someone who needs an ear costs you nothing and may allow you to be the difference to them as they teeter on the edge of vulnerability: worthiness. Will I be accepted for who I am and what I’m feeling, or will I be rejected – left hanging?
Brown describes that feeling of vulnerability beautifully:
“To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen … to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee … to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we’re wondering, “Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?” just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, “I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.”
Your challenge this week: Help to turn all of this vulnerability into joy, creativity, belonging, and love.
To be able to participate in the sort of moment when someone is truly sharing what makes them who they are is a gift. Having the grace to listen and to empathize is the gift you can give right back, which is exactly what the world needs more of right now.