Want to Get Tougher in Life? Be Vulnerable.
Unfortunately, we are in the throws of a national disaster. Hurricane Sandy's path of destruction is behind us, but ahead there is so much devastation to address. These are times when we are typically good at coming together as a community. We ask for help and offer help as a part of daily life to get us through the crisis and start to rebuild.
Crises are, for lack of a better term, valuable in that they give us the permission to express vulnerability and a spiritual sense that we are all in this together. After all, there is not much choice when your town is under water or you are running from a fire or helping someone hurt than to look messy together, cry, ask (scream perhaps) for help, hug, and love strangers as well as family.
What if we were willing and able to live together in non-crisis times the way we live together during crises? What if expressing our vulnerability would make us stronger individually and as a community, not just during a disaster but all the time? So being more human together by choice, in the way that disasters force us to be, can help us effectively deal with the more mundane daily life traumas and difficulties as well as the big hits.
As long as we try to avoid or are afraid of feeling vulnerable, we are paradoxically more defensive and unable to be fully human. Being fully human is what makes us strong: able to respond to life's pains and pressures, and joys and surprises.
So, how to be vulnerable? Accept that:
1. We do in fact need each other
2. We need support
3. We don't know what we are doing sometimes (or more than sometimes!).
That's hard given our fierce commitment to American Individualism and the Western bias of intellectualism (being smart=looking good =not needing help = better person).
I am reminded of the work created by my mentor Dr. Fred Newman (Lets Develop, CLRP Publications, 1994) where he invites us to not only accept and embrace our feelings of vulnerability but to actively GIVE our vulnerability to others:
Don't be so possessive for goodness sake and instead, see our human-ness ("I'm scared", "I need your help", "I don't know what to do", etc.) as good material to give to others to build with!
What does he mean by 'good material to build with'? Find out by trying this:
1. Next time you want to act cool, put together, like you know what you're doing when you are scared, anxious, confused - share your vulnerability with the person you are with and ask for help.
2. Tell me what happens, what you and the person produce together, and how sharing affected you and your relationship.
I work hard to practice that advice in my own life and with my clients. And I find that I am, of course, failing all the time. After all, like the rest of us, I like to look smart, act like I don't need any help, and look good.
So, here's to being vulnerable together, even after we rebuild the disaster areas and Hurricane Sandy is long past us.