Over the course of the past month, I have participated in several conversations—largely independent of each other and across a range of folks including a life coach in Colorado, a Grammy-winning musician, various friendly strangers, and my wife—in which the common denominator was the word vulnerability.
I first began giving regular consideration to the power of vulnerability while reading the work of my old dead friend Michel de Montaigne, the French essayist and philosopher for whom my main affection arises from him predicating his entire oeuvre on the idea that “I could be wrong.” In this our age of bellicose certitude, admitting you might be wrong is to show your soft underbelly, even as the snark army sharpens its ideological knives.
In the case of the musician, he and I were in the small room above my garage revisiting those times when we’d offered something from the heart, only to have it kicked to the gutter like desiccated dog waste. Harsh words and one-star reviews are not bullets, but they will send you ducking for cover. I have more than once curled up to suck my figurative thumb.
The musician and I hardly expect our every utterance to be greeted with unanimous hosannas. We know ourselves, our audiences, and the world itself better than that. Nor is our work always worthy. It’s just that sincerity is a form of vulnerability, and you never quite get over being the kid who show ups with a homemade birthday present only to be taunted for its imperfections.
Lately whenever I mention the word vulnerability people bring up Brené Brown, who has attracted a large following for her research, writing, and presentations on the subject. The second or third time I heard her name I got a little whiny, as one will when one you think you’ve been thinking something up yourself only to find someone far more educated and eloquent than you has been on the job for years… and also maybe she sells a lot more books than you. Good news is, admitting I can be this petty leaves me vulnerable to critiques of selfishness and self-centeredness, which in turn helps me look deeper into the more dimly-lit corners of my mirror. Also, I am typing this from the passenger seat on I-35 enroute to a family event in Wichita while listening to Brené Brown’s latest audiobook, so I am not all that put out.
The musician and I spoke a good long while. To be clear, this was not some ponderous pensivity panel. We also discussed the specifics of self-employment as it relates to used vans, how my chickens were doing, how our true friends keep us alive and in line, and he handed over a couple bags of high-end coffee beans. Ultimately, the musician and I agreed vulnerability is essential to goodness. Tell your story, share your heart. The slings and arrows will come. But so will the ones who understand. The fellow travelers. And together you’ll travel toward one thing: Gratitude.
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