Today is June 27 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you allow yourself to be vulnerable?” Best-selling author and expert on vulnerability Brené Brown wrote Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. In the book Brown discusses the critical role vulnerability has for everyone and wrote “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
So perhaps another way of asking today’s question is “are you brave enough to explore the darkness?” Translating dreams into reality usually requires one to be vulnerable at some point along their path. One such person was George Washington. On March 15, 1783, George Washington's Continental Army officers gathered in Newburgh, New York. This was a perilous moment for the fledgling American republic as the officers met to discuss grievances and consider a possible insurrection against Congress.
They were angry over the failure of Congress to honor its promises regarding salary, bounties, and life pensions. The officers had heard from Philadelphia that the American government was going broke and that they might not be compensated at all. To help quell the potential rebellion Washington showed up unannounced. In the middle of reading his speech Washington reached into his coat pocket and took out a pair of reading glasses and said:
"Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country."
In that single moment of sheer vulnerability, Washington's men were deeply moved, even shamed, and many were quickly in tears, now looking with great affection at this aging man who had led them through so much. Washington read the remainder of the letter, then left without saying another word, realizing their sentiments. His officers then cast a unanimous vote, essentially agreeing to the rule of Congress. Thus, the civilian government was preserved and the experiment of democracy in America continued.
Author C.S. Lewis wrote “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, and irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
Vulnerability as defined by Lewis was on full display in the 2021 American crime drama limited series Mare of Easttown, created by Brad Ingelsby starring Kate Winslet as a detective investigating a murder in a small town near Philadelphia. The ensemble cast also included Jean Smart, Guy Pearce, and Julianne Nicholson. Winslet plays Mare Sheehan, a police detective, in the words of Maureen Dowd, “who exists in a cloud of vape smoke, trysts, flannel, Rolling Rock and Jameson shots – ‘a very hot grandma,’ as Guy Pearce’s character calls her, sparring with a mother (Jean Smart) who loves drinking Manhattans,” and a best-friend and fellow mother in Nicholson who share the struggles of navigating raising children.
In an interview with Dowd for The New York Times, Winslet summarized her character’s relationship with vulnerability and said “Underneath Mare’s façade is a woman who is so entrenched in grief for her son (Mare’s son, Kevin, had struggled with depression and addiction before taking his own life) that she has not processed, and as she shares it, as she talks about it with a therapist, she will crack. She doesn’t want affection. She doesn’t want to be loved. And she doesn’t want to be cared for because if she has to experience those things, it makes her feel vulnerable, and if she feels vulnerable, then she can’t be strong anymore, and she can’t carry on.”
The brilliance of the limited series, however, is that it allows Mare’s vulnerability to connect with the audience as someone they can relate to, it provides her with the self-love needed to process her grief and support those closest to her. In short, the show illustrates Brown’s belief “only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
How often are you brave enough to explore the darkness so that you may discover the infinite power of your light?
If you are preventing yourself from being vulnerable, why do you think that is?
What small steps might you be able to take to explore being vulnerable?
Do you have any people in your life who model being vulnerable?