Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, creativity, innovation, and ideation.
This simple truth is explained provocatively by Brené Brown in her book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Brown invites us into a journey of opening ourselves up to the wonderful ironies of our imperfections, rather than exhausting ourselves constructing masks to hide them. Our perfectionist and narcissistic culture tempts us to run away from vulnerability and resist being honest with those around us. Brown wants readers to understand, for example, why it is that the most free and successful lives, marriages, families, organizations, and the like, are led by women and men who have the courage to be imperfect.
Vulnerable leaders, the ones who lead from a place of wholeheartedness, avail themselves to potential wounds. They are willing to risk being hurt. We experience vulnerability when starting a business, asking for help, initiating sex, returning a doctor’s phone call, watching our children play soccer horribly, getting fired, asking for help, asking for forgiveness, admitting mistakes, standing up for ourselves, and so on.
We love it when other people are vulnerable, but we don’t want to risk being vulnerable with others. Vulnerability requires wisdom, however, and Brown cautions that we should be truly vulnerable with those who have earned the right to hear it. Vulnerability is mutual and is an integral part of building trust. It is cultivated and built over time.
Vulnerability also challenges our attempts to make individualism work—as if we can go it alone. We avoid vulnerability, Brown argues, because leaning into it means facing the things that shame us—that is, those things that make us believe we are a mistake of creation.
Men avoid vulnerability because of the shame associated with failure—at work, on the field, in their marriage, in bed, with money, with their business; being wrong; being defective; being considered soft; revealing weakness; showing fear; being known as the guy who is a pushover. Their worst fear is being criticized or ridiculed. A man is shamed when his wife mentions all the things that her friend’s husband can do and buy for her (it makes him feel inadequate).
Women avoid vulnerability because of shame associated with looking perfect, with being judged by other mothers, being judged by their own mother, never feeling good enough (no matter what they’ve accomplished), feeling like in order to be a real woman they have to do it all (and do it all well)—never home enough, never at work enough, never enough in the bedroom, never enough caring for parents or children, not being beautiful enough.
Shame kills vulnerability. Without vulnerability the things that shame us master us.
Perhaps the most enduring aspect of Brown’s book is the realization that it prepares readers nicely for hearing the gospel. God the Father sent his Son to redeem a people to live lives free of shame because they are fully accepted, receive eternal love, are grafted into a community of belonging and are, therefore, called to joyfully embrace vulnerability because they have a savior who was vulnerable with them first because of the their imperfections.
Vulnerability, then, is not only the birthplace of innovation and creativity; it is also the birthplace of experiencing the mystery of God’s grace.