It seems pretty impossible to start writing about vulnerability without mentioning Brené Brown, the Texas based researcher whose 2010 Ted Talk undeniably changed the way many of us think about the subject.
It most definitely shifted the way I viewed vulnerability and as part of this, how I viewed fear. In stepping into our vulnerability we cannot escape engaging in our fear. A fear of rejection, a fear of hurting others, a fear of getting it wrong, a fear of the unknown. It is often a painful experience and yet, it offers us the greatest liberation because we cannot be present in our lives, in the lives of those we care about and in society, if we cannot lean into our vulnerability.
Vulnerability looks different for all of us and there are ongoing gender and culturally related intricacies to consider. It can be hard to share our vulnerability if the communities we exist within struggle to recognise and respect it and instead criticise and shame. How do we, in the face of such potential hostility, make ourselves vulnerable time and time again?
We practise in both big and small ways, with a range of people, in a range of situations. How we practise will depend on the context of our lives and our inner worlds. It’s important to think about what vulnerability might look like for you. Is it being honest with an employer about needing more support to get a project completed or asking about a raise? Is it turning down a friend’s invitation because you need time to yourself? Is it sharing the true extent of your feelings for someone for the first time? Is it exploring a new interest?
For me, it looks like being honest about what I care about, about my values and my boundaries, with myself and then with others. It also means not getting too invested in an outcome, something that is hard not to do. Being vulnerable will sometimes result in huge disappointment, in heartbreak, in embarrassment, in endings. Your line manager may say no to the raise, your friend may be offended, a potential new partner might not want to become a new partner, you might find that learning to tap dance is not so fun after all…
Since I started to explore my own vulnerability I have taken more chances and I have also experienced more hurt. It’s changed many of my relationships in both positive and challenging ways and it has allowed me to examine how I want to work and how I want to live. It has made me have to face myself in new ways and it is an ongoing process that I’m not sure gets easier but the value of stepping into my vulnerability becomes infinitely clearer.
I began this piece with Brené Brown and I’m going to end with her, too. Brown shares, ‘vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.’ In these uncertain times, when politics, fractured communities, poverty and the state of the planet leave us afraid, angry and regretful, it becomes even more important we recognise the courage in our own vulnerability and that of other people.
Image by Beata Owczarek: ‘Serduszko Puka’ (heart puka).
Tarnia Mason is a campaigner, educator and community support practitioner. It all connects.
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