A recent post by my friend Thaler Pekar, was her call for “an end to ‘vulnerability chic.'” In recent years, the work of researcher Brené Brown has brought a great deal of attention to the dynamics of vulnerability,,and related issues of shame and guilt. Brown’s book, and TED talk, have been enormously popular, with many millions of readers and viewers.
In my own responses to Thaler, I noted that while I understand what Brené means, and I agree with the need to be open to the ideas and emergent (even unwanted) possibilities life can bring, I wished Dr. Brown had used a word other than “vulnerability.”
Here is my response:
Bruce on vulnerability:
And so, vulnerability. While I understand and appreciate what Brene Brown has done in shedding light on this human condition, I personally wish she used a different word. To me, “vulnerability” suggests too much of the negative, too much of the narrative of fear in our lives. I agree that to relate and build trust and possibility, we must be “vulnerable.” But not necessarily weak, and not necessarily subjecting ourselves to shame, defeat, and suffering. To be vulnerable in its broadest sense (and to her credit, I do think Brené Brown does mean it this way) is to be open in the gestures of communication and relating that we make to others. It is a way of saying “I am not certain what this is, or how to respond.” It is a way of saying “I may not know, but perhaps you do. Perhaps we can do something about this together – even if it means abandoning my ideas in favor of yours (or someone else’s).
Personally, I talk and teach and write about the needs for knowledge and understanding that acknowledge, accept, and embrace the inherent ambiguity and complexity of being alive. We can choose to accept the challenges of living not through the primary lenses of vulnerability as fear, but through the lens of courageous explorer. The more we experience, learn, and understand, the better able we may become to respond in adaptive, even successful, ways in the moment. In my writing for the book I am doing with Denise Easton on disruptive experiences and response capacities, these issues and dynamics are central to our thinking. We often use the examples of certain athletes, like martial artists. One can never know everything; never know exactly what will come at you next. But you can be prepared to the best of your abilities. You can be confident both about what you know, and what you don’t know. You can be able to use what you know in ways that you never thought about before, to engage the surprising, and hopefully learn and survive even in the experience of failure.
How will you rewrite your own narrative, so that you can be simultaneously “vulnerable” and… A courageous explorer of the unknown future?