At every level of our culture, there is a trend to avoid vulnerability at essentially all costs. Vulnerability feels scary, raw, and sometimes just too honest. Recently, I have been reading the book Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, and it has profoundly shifted my perspective on the purpose and potential of vulnerability. If you haven’t read the book, I’d recommend starting with her Ted talks here and here. Brené is a vulnerability researcher who has spent years studying shame and vulnerability in relationships, and she writes about how this data can shed light on how we live, love, and parent.
In Daring Greatly, Brown approaches the idea of scarcity in our society, which is simply the feeling of “never enough.” In reading her thoughts, it has dawned on me that I feel most vulnerable when I admit that I don’t know the answer. Of course, I’m not in school, and I’m not frequently asked pointed questions which I must answer assuredly, but we each encounter things we don’t know in small ways daily.
The idea that we don’t know what is coming next in life, a symptom of purely being human, can cause a distinct sense of vulnerability in some. Likewise, the desire to avoid looking naive creates a platform for negativity and cynicism in order to hedge against being found less than all-knowing and wise. It seems that in our culture, naiveté is one of the worst possible accusations one human could lob at another. Worse than being dumb, being naive indicates an inability to know better and a blind belief that the best will come.
About a year ago, I began working for a great company, and I’ve had many opportunities within the company to move up and into roles more suited to my talents. It is really fantastic to work for an organization that offers these sorts of opportunities to employees, however, I’ve found myself reassuring others that I know how challenging every corporation is and how all of this could go wrong. I fall to the temptation to reiterate that I do understand that I may still be thrown under the bus or given a bad deal on any given day. After a specific conversation on the topic, I began to reconsider why I may be so apt to bring up these misgivings. I found that my bent toward this cynicism shields me just in case something negative were to happen at the office – should this happen, I would have seen it coming and could say I was not caught unprepared or naive.
I don’t believe that the negativity and cynicism I’ve mentioned is “realism,” but rather a shield often guarding against exposure. When you always live in the worst case scenario, it’s not so easy to be blindsided and to be left vulnerable.
What is the antidote here? I don’t believe that it is optimism. Instead, I believe it is understanding that vulnerability does not indicate weakness but strength. Humans need God and community, which is why we are wired with this intrinsic vulnerability. I’ve found more peace in my daily life by accepting that it is okay to be wrong and leaning on the truth that identity is not found in being right or prepared but in Christ.
What about you? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this conversation.