Vulnerability vs Courage

I was at work the other day talking to one of my co-workers and she mentioned that she is in love with TedTalks. I must admit I love TedTalks too!! They are short, and “I have time for just one more” usually means I will be sitting on youtube for the better part of the day just watching one TedTalk after another. She mentioned that she had been watching one lady’s talks over the weekend, a Brene Brown, and suggested this one to me: 


Now, I really suggest that you take the time to watch it. It’s so moving. However, if you don’t have the 20 minutes to spare, my post is basically a breakdown of what she says.

She starts this talk referencing a previous TedTalk that she did a year earlier, and this is kind of the aftermath of that. She is a researcher who specializes in vulnerability and shame.

Right at the start, she mentions that she doesn’t define vulnerability as weakness, but as an emotional risk. One that fuels our lives. She then asks the audience to raise their hands for a series of questions. First, do you link vulnerability with weakness (the majority raise their hands) and second, during TedTalks, do you see the speaker’s vulnerability as courage? (again the majority raise their hands).

I really love this connection that she makes, and it’s something that my co-worker pointed out. That we see vunerability within ourselves as weakness, but in others it is courage. I see that in myself! I am always a little uncomfortable when people tell me I’m brave for sharing my story about Doris, and being so positive about it. Yet some days I just see the shame in it. Brene then goes on to say that vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage – what a beautiful sentiment!

She segues seamlessly into the notion of shame, comparing it to a “swamp land of the soul” where we aren’t really suppose to set up a house there but “put on galoshes and wade around in it” to sort it all out.

She makes a clear distinction between shame and guilt. Saying that shame is “I am bad”, guilt is “I did something bad”. And that shame affects us more than guilt because of that distinction. Guilt is simply ‘I’m sorry, I made a mistake”, something that is easy to forgive. While shame, on the other hand, is “I’m sorry, I  am a mistake.” When she said that, the realization behind this truth kind of hit me like a brick to the face. I started making all these connections to my own life, linking exactly what she was saying to many different facets of my own life.

Brene continues on to say how shame affects both genders the same, we feel is washing over us in the same way. However the manifestation of shame is different. She compares it to a commercial (probably an American one, I had never heard of the product she was talking about).

She says that for women, shame is do it all, do it perfectly and never let them see you sweat. She paints it as a web of unattainable, conflicting expectations about who we are who we are suppose to be and it’s a straight jacket. WOW  I feel this pressure all the time as woman! Especially being almost 30 (in a year) with no husband or kids or house of my own. Add in the hair, and the PCOS – if I paid attention to all that I don’t think I would be able to function!

She doesn’t leave out men of course. For men, its not conflicting expectations, it’s one: do not be perceived as weak. She tells a story of a man who came to one of her book signings and asked where her data on men was. At that time she didn’t study men. He went on to say that the women in his life are the hardest on him, and that it would be better for him to die on his (theoretical) white horse rather than to fall off of it.I think that might have been a turning point for her research and so expanded it to include men.

At the end of her talk, she mentions that shame is an epidemic in our culture (how true is that statement?!). And as with all epidemics, there is an antidote. Empathy is the antidote to shame. How powerful a notion when we are feeling our lowest and most shameful, and someone says “me too”.

The above ideas are all Brene’s. She gave an amazing talk and I don’t do it justice just by regurgitating her information back to you. I really do suggest that you watch her segment and let it really sink in. It was much more than I was expecting so early on a Sunday morning. I don’t even think I have a category to place this post, other than linking it to my media thing for March!

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