This month, we want to share with you the work of Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work who has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Dawn first stumbled upon Brown’s TED talks
last year and immediately ordered and read her book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
(2012). Last month, Dawn also had the opportunity to see Brown speak at the Emerging Women Live Conference
in Boulder, Colorado. Brown’s engaging storytelling captivates audiences as she authentically shares her research and her own struggle with vulnerability. If you watch the TED videos, be ready to laugh, but at the same time be ready to get hit in the gut as she holds up a mirror to aspects of ourselves we normally try to shield.
It will be impossible to try to encapsulate her work in one blog post, but here are a few ideas that still resonate with us and relate to our work. Brown’s research points to the fact that as humans we are wired for connection, but that we can’t have that connection without vulnerability. As a culture, we tend to equate vulnerability with weakness and most of us try to protect ourselves from it with various forms of psychological armor. One result of all that armor is disengagement. “Disengagement is the issue underlying the majority of problems I see in families, schools, communities, and organizations, and it takes many forms…We disengage to protect ourselves from vulnerability, shame, and feeling lost and without purpose.” As teachers, parents, employers, and business people, the gap between our practiced values (what we’re actually doing, thinking, and feeling) and our aspirational values (what we want to do, think, and feel) leads to what she calls the “disengagement divide.” But we need to engage, because as she identifies in her talk, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”
To bridge this gap, we need to embrace vulnerability, have the courage to be imperfect, and normalize that discomfort. I know, easier said than done! As we reflected on Brown’s ideas, we realized that when we take groups of kids or adults through the process of learning to juggle, we provide an opportunity to experience this discomfort in a playful way. If you’ve ever tried to learn how to juggle, you know that it isn’t pretty at first. You drop a lot, feel uncoordinated, and might just be a little bit worried about how silly you look. But you are engaged! When we teach, we encourage learners to look at the drops not as something to be embarrassed about, but as information to learn from. We model looking silly and being imperfect so that the learners can find humor in their own process. We provide honest, constructive, and engaged feedback throughout their learning. Hopefully, we make learners feel a little more comfortable with the messiness so that they are more open to experiencing it again in other aspects of their life.