Scary but important words …

I’m often late to the party, not just in matters of style or music (if I ever get there), but in terms of keeping up with great thinkers who are saying important things. That’s why I was behind the curve — but no less delighted — when I discovered pschologist, researcher, author and storyteller Brene Brown through her 2010 Ted Talk on vulnerability, and an earlier talk on the dangers of avoiding it.

I watch a lot of Ted Talks, or listen to the podcasts. Most of the speakers are really intriguing, no matter what the subject. Some of them I hear with skepticism, and some seem a little too sure of themselves, but occasionally I think one of them hits the nail on the head — and that’s what I thought when I first ran across Brown’s talk on shame and vulnerability — which included an account of her personal struggles to come to terms with what it means to surrender control and learn to be vulnerable.

In a followup Ted Talk in 2012, Brown reflected on the viral response to her talk after it was posted on YouTube and found more than four million viewers (it’s up to seven million now). In that talk, she dug a little deeper into the subject of shame and why we have to understand the difference between feelings of guilt (knowing I’ve done something bad) and shame (thinking I am bad or unworthy). People who are wholehearted, she argues, people who have real courage, are those who don’t give in to shame, but recognize their inherent worth and are therefore willing to be vulnerable in their relationships with others and with the world.

Vulnerability is often associated with fear and shame, she notes, while arguing that for all that we try to avoid it, vulnerability is also the birthplace of joy, love, belonging, faith, innovation, creativity, and change.

Fear of vulnerability drives us to seek certainty and control, she says — something that helps us to understand the rise of fundamentalism and our current paralyzed, polarized political system. That’s a really important insight, I think.

I noticed, at several points, that Brown’s thoughts tallied well with biblical teaching — for example, her insistence that learning to love and care for other people is intimately bound up with the ability to love and care for ourselves. She could have quoted the biblical injunction to “Love your neighbor as yourselves” and it would have fit right in.

In her 2010 Kansas City talk, she spoke of the relationship between vulnerability and faith, suggesting that “faith is the vulnerability that flows between the shores of certainty.”

So, I was not particularly surprised to learn that Brown is also a person of faith, and that her deep struggles with issues of control and vulnerability were key to her own spiritual awakening. I discovered this when a friend posted a short interview with Brown from “The Work of the People” on Facebook, and was delighted to hear “the rest of the story” as she reflected on faith and love and authenticity.

I didn’t write this, of course, just to be vulnerable enough to admit how tardy I am in discovering Brene Brown’s work. I suspect there are plenty other folks out there who haven’t run across her, but who could benefit from what she has to say. So, if Brown is new to you, set aside an hour or so, follow the links, and listen to the videos I’ve mentioned above. You’ll probably end up ordering one of her books.

And I believe you’ll be glad you did.

5 Comments

  1. "faith is the vulnerability that flows between the shores of certainty."

    By definition, certainty is not divided by anything, so the analogy fails. Two + two = four, and nothing else. Assigning vulnerability to faith is about the same as assigning a weapon-less policeman to guard a prisoner. That isn’t vulnerability, just stupidity. One of the definitions of faith: firm belief in something for which there is no proof. At the moment one second-guesses his faith he has lost it but can regain it. Faith is not the vulnerability, the individual is. The keyword is firm. Faith is not to be confused with salvation.

  2. From anther view- an argument is only as good as it's weakest point. Jim yours is at the beginning. I can be certain about many things while having doubts about others. Yet I must face them both. With regard to your analogy of 2 + 2 = 4, yes in base 10 figures but not in base 2. And, I may feel vulnerable yet, with faith can and do move ahead. And, your assertion that faith is not to be confused with salvation – I say, without faith there is no salvation. By grace you are saved by faith! And, Brown's dealing with shame certainly meets the needs of many a person who has been told they are no good since child hood.

  3. 2+2=4 in base 10 is still a certainty. Any number combination in any base creates a certainty. The point is that some things are black-and-white, not in shades of gray, as is suggested in the analogy. Otherwise, the 10 Commandments might as well be a comic strip and the resurrection is what anyone says it is…or isn’t. By grace you are saved through (not by) your faith. Continue reading that passage and discover that your salvation is a gift. By definition, a gift is something for which the beneficiary exercises nothing. The faith that precipitated salvation was the faith of Christ, which made possible the grace. Whether or not a person has faith changes nothing vis-à-vis salvation itself, a gift.

  4. Jim, I think it might be useful to watch the content Tony was basing his article. It was about shame, vulnerability and control. It was not about being certain about specific doctrinal items and self evident truths, but how to deal with uncertainty of daily life and how we tend to create structures to control these uncertainties rather than to become vulnerable in them. Who wants to mourn or to be poor in spirit? Scripture tells us in our vulnerableness we are comforted and ours is the kingdom of heaven. We can survive being vulnerable and even thrive but she also indicates how it is very important it is to have a healthy image of ourselves. This is in keeping with "Love your neighbor as yourselves"

  5. I did mention self-evident truths but presented no doctrinal discussion, just opinions. The poor in spirit are probably those who are humble as compared to the pious or spiritually arrogant, so I don’t see how that applies to shame or vulnerability…just the opposite. As for those who mourn, their being comforted has nothing to do with shame, just sorrow. Being in control is a natural instinct and drives one toward certainty, not figuring out ways to accommodate its adverse ramifications; but rather to do away with them. Failure in this regard is not to be blamed on just accepting vulnerability (or shame) as a fact of life and learning to live with it; rather the individual would do better to defeat it, though he may fail. As for one’s being satisfied with one’s image as being healthy in his own sight, that’s a recipe for both arrogant pride and a disincentive to attempting improvement. I’m certainly not satisfied with my image and hope to be better. I can’t see how that comports with one’s loving neighbor as self except as a physical matter. I don’t smoke (quit 57 years ago but still crave cigarettes and cigars), so I wouldn’t give my neighbor a cigarette. Okay…I probably would but I certainly wouldn’t give him any alcohol. I always loved myself too much to bother with that drug. I think I understand what the lady was saying, that one who loves, in a relationship for instance, must be vulnerable to being hurt. I just call it disappointment, which simply means get on with life and let it go.

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