ALLOWING YOURSELF TO BE VULNERABLE IS ACTUALLY AN ACT OF COURAGE
As we continue our roller-coaster adventure through life, certain moments become entrenched in our memories forever. I fondly remember my final year Economics lecturer (the globally renowned apartheid activist Sampie Terreblanche) paraphrase the profound words of Lord Acton: Power corrupts, but ABSOLUTE POWER corrupts ABSOLUTELY. Another one that stands out came from Mr Schrapler - my high school standard 8 (GRADE 10) Science teacher. WITH EVERY ACTION, THERE IS AN EQUAL BUT OPPOSITE REACTION.
Though I did not see it at the time, this statement would prove true for us, every day of our lives in the most unexpected ways. This is where I want to begin. I want to attempt to answer an extremely complicated question,
WHY DO WE SEE VULNERABILITY AS A WEAKNESS IN CHARACTER?
In order to answer this question, we need to fully understand what it means to be vulnerable. Many people understand vulnerability as a DEFENSELESS opening up of oneself, thereby exposing them to some form of attack or harm, whether it be physical or emotional. In short, it is something we are trained NEVER to do.
I don’t disagree with the thought that the unwarranted dropping of one’s guard can be both careless and potentially prove incredibly destructive if not done correctly, however, to be clear, the ability to become vulnerable may actually prove to be the most courageous action one could take – an action capable of producing a life altering reaction. In truth, all of us need to embrace the thought of vulnerability and courageously lean into the discomfort it may cause.
In many ways, and my family can vouch for this, I personally find it difficult to get embarrassed!
During my high school years in Port Elizabeth, I was able to identify the fact that I was different from everyone else BUT I was also able to understand that if I followed the generally accepted rules of society, there remained enough space for me to be my own person, to stand out enough but not too much! Put differently, I knew and respected the referees and linesman (parents, teachers, people in positions of authority) as well as the rules that pertain to this ‘GAME’ OF LIFE.
Upon leaving school, I tried to develop and establish my own personality. This is where some will argue that I LOST THE PLOT a bit. But it was during this time that I somehow developed my very own SUPERPOWER! I became and still am, a JUDGEMENT JAYWALKER. I have the uncanny ability to jaywalk around any judgement received without looking for the zebra crossing that society insists I must find. Ok, so not entirely a superpower – it can get me into a lot of trouble (like if I ignore a valid criticism and get knocked over by a bus in the process while jaywalking!)
Like all of us, I do get judged and criticised regularly, but I have trained myself to pay attention to the ones that I am able to acknowledge as actions that are against my own moral standards, or actions that have been insensitive to those around me.
WHY DO WE FEAR BEING JUDGED SO MUCH?
For me, having another person judge me is confirmation that I have done something against their norm. My thinking is that it is not necessarily the action that is in the spotlight but rather that person’s own understanding of ‘normal’. NOW YOU NEED TO KNOW the following: The way you react to judgement is where the real victory or defeat lies.
Now that I have opened your mind a bit, let us look at research done by a professional. I have chosen Professor Brené Brown as she is not only a gifted speaker, but she has also dedicated countless months of her life trying to fully understand human guilt vs shame and other destructive emotions of self. I specifically refer to a TED talk she did on the power of vulnerability in 2010. (I stumbled across this talk while researching a BONUS lesson for EDUC8.africa in which I wanted to explain and emphasise the difference between empathy and sympathy.)
It is twenty minutes of inciteful, thought provoking and possibly even life changing opinions, backed by facts that are based on scientific research, presented in a wonderfully HUMAN and HUMOROUS manner.
if you are not able to watch, please allow me to sum up her message very quickly:
Brené notes that we need to be able to manage our emotional hurt in a subconscious way that ensures we can acknowledge it, respect it and accept it.
- ACKNOWLEDGE one another’s freedom to voice an opinion.
- RESPECT that another’s opinions may differ from yours. (Remember: We are not all the same.)
- ACCEPT one another regardless of our opinions, mannerisms and communication skills.
And then, looking a little deeper:
WHY DO WE STRUGGLE TO CHANGE/ADAPT OR IMPROVE WITH EVERY JUDGEMENT RECEIVED?
Let us be honest, WE ALL HATE PAIN, it’s uncomfortable. Emotional pain is the longest and most difficult to recover from. Allow me to paraphrase a well-known saying that is complete rubbish…
Sticks and Stone may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
In my experience, sticks and stones may break your bones, BUT WORDS CAN DESTROY YOUR SOUL.
Brené gives us the simple, yet extremely difficult and complicated answer to overcoming all the fears we face daily - we need to allow ourselves to become vulnerable. This is actually, the most courageous thing we can do, simply because:
“Those that have a deep understanding of love and belonging are the only ones capable of providing love and belonging…”
Essentially, what this means is that we can only gain and provide a deep understanding of love and belonging by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to potential judgement.
VULNERABILITY IS NOT A WEAKNESS! IT IS A PROFOUND MEASURE OF COURAGE.
VULNERABILITY IS THE BIRTHPLACE OF CREATIVITY, INNOVATON AND CHANGE.
ADAPTABILITY TO CHANGE IS ALL ABOUT VULNERABILITY.
In conclusion, ACCEPT AND LOVE YOURSELF WHOLEHEARTEDLY FIRST - literally and figuratively. Don’t be afraid to wear your heart on your sleeve.
You are who you are, warts and all – acknowledge that you will always be a work in progress so allow yourself the space to grow by opening up and becoming vulnerable.