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.