Sofia Adamson, Staff Writer
The world is hardening as people grip ever tighter to their opinions and beliefs, entrenching themselves ever more deeply into their biases and echo chambers. Battle lines are being drawn and the rhetoric is heating up. Talk of civil war is being tossed around, as though there is no possible way to unite and find common ground.
But we are humans. We have consciousness, we have the capacity for empathy and also the intelligence to avoid senseless self-destruction. But, what makes it possible for us to find common ground, or to at least to tolerate each other?
The answer: Connection.
Scientist and researcher Brené Brown, author of Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, has for years been studying the phenomenon of vulnerability and how it relates to shame, empathy, and connection in our world. Her views are heart-opening, and especially relevant to a world doubling down on hate.
Her journey of discovery into the quality of vulnerability began with an inquiry into connection.
So where I started was with connection. Because, by the time you’re a social worker for 10 years, what you realize is that connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. This is what it’s all about. It doesn’t matter whether you talk to people who work in social justice, mental health and abuse and neglect, what we know is that connection, the ability to feel connected, is –neurobiologically that’s how we’re wired — it’s why we’re here. ~Brené Brown
But vulnerability plays the important role of making us available to connection, and no matter how crazy things get out there, until the last person totally abandons their humanity, there’s still hope for reconnection.
Here’s what she learned about vulnerability:
“We numb vulnerability — when we’re waiting for the call… This is the world we live in. We live in a vulnerable world. And one of the ways we deal with it is we numb vulnerability…
And I think there’s evidence — and it’s not the only reason this evidence exists, but I think it’s a huge cause — We are the most in-debt … obese … addicted and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history. The problem is — and I learned this from the research — that you cannot selectively numb emotion. You can’t say, here’s the bad stuff. Here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment. I don’t want to feel these. I’m going to have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin.” ~Brené Brown
“You can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then, we are miserable, and we are looking for purpose and meaning, and then we feel vulnerable, so then we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. And it becomes this dangerous cycle.
One of the things that I think we need to think about is why and how we numb. And it doesn’t just have to be addiction. The other thing we do is we make everything that’s uncertain certain. Religion has gone from a belief in faith and mystery to certainty. “I’m right, you’re wrong. Shut up.” That’s it. Just certain.The more afraid we are, the more vulnerable we are, the more afraid we are. This is what politics looks like today. There’s no discourse anymore. There’s no conversation. There’s just blame. You know how blame is described in the research? A way to discharge pain and discomfort. We perfect. If there’s anyone who wants their life to look like this, it would be me, but it doesn’t work. Because what we do is we take fat from our butts and put it in our cheeks.” ~Brené Brown
Her final thoughts on what she learned about the value of vulnerability and the ability to see through to joy and gratitude in moments of terror.
“This is what I have found: To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen … to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee — and that’s really hard, and I can tell you as a parent, that’s excruciatingly difficult — to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we’re wondering, “Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?” just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, “I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.” And the last, which I think is probably the most important, is to believe that we’re enough. Because when we work from a place, I believe, that says, “I’m enough” … then we stop screaming and start listening, we’re kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.” ~Brené Brown
Perhaps it is time for a conversation about shame, vulnerability and connection. What do you think? What’s lacking from public discourse right now that is making it so challenging for people to overcome their personal pain and find common ground or tolerance?
Her full presentation can be seen here: