When people think of self-help books they think of potent mantras and anecdotes telling disheveled New Yorkers how to improve their lives so that they don’t end up alone with 70 cats. (Although, it seems as though both cats and singledom are very trendy now.) They’re for can't-get-your-life-together New Yorkers (because aren’t we all?)—who eat self-help books up for breakfast. A girl I met over winter break told me about one such book she was reading, that she practically swore by it. She said it gave her the courage to land her first job. The book, she said, “Is not like any other self-help book.” So, with much apprehension, I gave it a try.
Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown, explains, “How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead.” After chapter three I tried explaining to my parents what the books was about. "It’s about vulnerability", I told them. “You have absolutely no problem being vulnerable,” they fired back. Granted, as a writer, and as someone who frequents poetry slams—I’m used to expressing myself vulnerably through word. They were right, If there was something I was lacking, it definitely wasn't vulnerability.
People tell me I’m very “gutsy.” That “guts” prompted me to write that blog post or get that interview or get up onstage and perform poetry. I’m starting to think that it’s not guts, but my ability to be vulnerable. The best bosses are the ones who are vulnerable. They are able to view vulnerability as power, not weakness. Being vulnerable makes you more relatable, more personable. Brene Brown describes her Ted Talks as a “Vulnerability Hangover.” The next morning, she wakes up and feels like she opened up too much. Put herself out there too much. That’s how I feel the day after I'm vulnerable with someone. She says that people will congratulate you after. They’ll tell you what an amazing inspiring speech that was or performance that was. We’re so easy allowing and wanting other people to be vulnerable but when it comes to our own vulnerability, we shut it down. We feel embarassed.
Something that really struck me was how much men lack vulnerability because growing up they were told “to man up,” or that being sensitive and emotional was something seen as emasculating. I know how prevalent this topic is but to see it through my own experiences makes it that much more real. Women talk more and men talk less. Women want to share their feelings. This all isn’t innate. This is the product of coaches, fathers, and friends basically telling men from a young age, says Brown, to “stop crying,” and to “man up.” I see this to be true in most of my relationships with men in my life. I went out for drinks with one of my guy friends and only when he was drunk was he really able to open up to me and to tell me, “I don’t know how to express my feelings to my parents.” And another guy friend who always says, “Nothing’s wrong,” when something is clearly wrong. And a guy who told me “girlfriend’s are the best gift to men because they can finally open up.” The reality of this makes me very sad.
For men, shame is not a bunch of competing, conflicting expectations. Shame is one, “Do not be perceived as what — weak?” […] A man looked at me one day after a book signing and said, “… you say to reach out, tell our story, be vulnerable. But you see those books you just signed for my wife and my three daughters? They’d rather me die on top of my white horse than watch me fall down. When we reach out and be vulnerable we get the shit beat out of us. And don’t tell me it’s from the guys and the coaches and the dads, because the women in my life are harder on me than anyone else.”- Brene Brown
As a society, what can we do to prevent perpetuation of this vicious cycle? Is it enough to raise our sons in an environment where they feel safe opening up and feeling comfortable with vulnerability? Or will they go out in the real world and get crushed by the sons whose parents didn’t instill in them the ability to be vulnerable? And what about the wives and the women who would rather, “see their men die on top of their white horse than watch them fall down?” I think if people learn the importance of vulnerability they will ultimately see, like Brene says, “How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead.”