Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston, where she has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. You may have heard of her, she’s been promoted by Oprah and did a Ted Talk that to date has had nearly 5 million views worldwide. She hit the big time with her message a few years ago, including having a couple of best-sellers on the New York Times list. So yeah, you’ve probably heard of her, unless—like me—you tend to shun popular culture, don’t read NY Times best-sellers until years later, and don’t watch broadcast television. If you’re in that camp, you know what it’s like to hit upon how cool something like the flip phone is only to realize the world is already queuing up for the iPhone 6.
Yes, I’m a little behind. The only time I watch “live” TV is when I visit my mom. Occasionally my travels involve a hotel, and I’m so stunned by the unbelievable amount of crap on TV that I channel surf just to remind myself that canceling cable in 2004 was one of the healthiest acts I’ve ever committed. Sometimes I interact with TV watchers and purveyors of current culture. A few years ago, coworkers at the time were discussing the latest news of the Kardashians. I thought they were talking about a new race of characters on Star Trek. Then they politely reminded me that Star Trek had been off the air for six years. It’s no surprise that people often treat me like I’ve just walked out of a cave in Whereverstan.
So what does this have to do with Brené Brown? Actually, not a lot except to say that I’ve only recently discovered her, while for the rest of you she may be yesterday’s news. Anyway, this is my blog, and if I want to write about yesterday’s news, I can. Besides, Ms. Brown has helped me uncover the root of my predicament as a creative writer: I’m not vulnerable enough. To paraphrase her, vulnerability is an act of courage. We put on protective armor thinking that to have courage means never let ‘em see you sweat or know that you don’t have a solution or that you can’t handle a situation or that you struggle at times because some things just don’t have easy answers. Nowhere in the world is there a person who doesn’t fear vulnerability. Nowhere but here in DC is it more important to have extra-strength armor to protect against vulnerability because, God forbid, a politician could turn out to be human. (The jury might still be chewing its cud on the latter claim, although DNA evidence does suggest it could be true.)
Who wants to be vulnerable? Society has quite insidiously taught us that vulnerability is weakness and weakness is death. We put ourselves out there and we get burned, sometimes wishing we would die on the spot if only to end the unbearable pain and humiliation. We quit, lash out, sidestep, fake it, lie, or never even try not because we’re weak but because we don’t understand that being vulnerable is actually courageous.
Ms. Brown says “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” She’s talking about what it really means to be vulnerable as opposed to the macho never-let-‘em-see-you-sweat brain worm that society has implanted in us.
So who wants to be vulnerable? Well, who wants to be courageous? Join me in the next several blog posts to explore this topic likely to freak out many. I don’t know exactly where this is going, but consider that confession a first step toward a willingness to publicly announce my expedition into the dangerous territory of Shameless Vulnerability.