Both Sides Now By Cora Treoir Duncan: Let’s talk Vulnerability!

For most people vulnerability appears as weakness, never being enough or acting with uncertainty. We tend to avoid it, fearing the public exposure and censure will lead to fatal judgment we will never recover from completely.

In fact, a serious decade-long study has shown a surprising truth; that “daring greatly”, operating in a vulnerable state, opens us to purpose and meaning. In her book “Daring Greatly,” author Brene Brown calls it “leading a Wholehearted life.”

By comparison, we all have either seen someone or experienced ourselves the unwillingness to share an unpopular decision, to ask for help, to say “I Love You”, to attempt something new, to admit fear, to ask forgiveness to take risks or to say “No.” I am sure each of us can identify dozens more situations that we fear and avoid in the pursuit of NOT being seen as vulnerable: for to do so would invite shame to occupy our life.

We have internalized shame most often due to a media-driven idealization of perfection, which the reasoned mind will tell you is non-existent and a false idol that leads its adherents to lives of scarcity or dysfunctional abundance. The accompanying loneliness, emptiness and despair will never satisfy our hearts the way vulnerability can.

It seems counter-intuitive at first glance, but being open and vulnerable actually fills our soul with a creative fire and passion borne out of the public struggle we present, exposed for all to see. It is exactly that uncertainty of success we seek, fraught with inevitable failure, that also leads to redemptive triumph with perseverance. From the press box we can hear the shallow critics’ voices that hound us, highlighting our failures and touting the skill of others above our own, suddenly appear anemic faced with the person covered in blood, sweat and dust, “daring greatly,” who has spent themselves in pursuit of their worthy cause. Their crowning achievement shines all the brighter in victory and defeat stands as a noble partner in the final measure.

I have come to understand vulnerability as being capable of being wounded and carrying on, while weakness by definition is the inability to withstand attack or wounding. It should be plain that weakness is in fact generated by a lack of vulnerability, which may in fact lessen the attack’s damage.

The positive effect of embracing vulnerability is linked with accepting imperfection, being worthy and always enough, scared AND excited and connected to the humanity of everyone we meet. We are loving, loved and lovable precisely due to our vulnerability. It shines through our exercise and expression in art, music, literature or dance every time we take the stage, traversing the tightrope suspended above the net of uncertainty.

When we share our stories of struggle and strength, as individuals or parents, we will laugh and cry, face fear and grief, sing and dance and creatively share our passions. We will feel and live and love Wholeheartedly, see and be seen through the lens of vulnerability.


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