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Today I want to commend Brene Brown to you, and point you to some of her work that I hope you’ll watch or read when you get a chance. Brene is a social work research professor at the University of Houston whose work is popular with a wide audience. Here’s a bit from her bio:
“Brené has spent the past ten years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Brené spent the first five years of her decade-long study focusing on shame and empathy, and is now using that work to explore a concept that she calls Wholeheartedness. She poses the questions:
How do we learn to embrace our vulnerabilities and imperfections so that we can engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness? How do we cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection that we need to recognize that we are enough – that we are worthy of love, belonging, and joy?”
Her 2010 TED talk on vulnerability became one of the 10 most viewed TED talks; it currently has been viewed over 6.8 million times.
Her books include Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way we Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (2012), The Gifts of Imperfection: Letting Go of Who We Think We Should Be and Embracing Who We Are (2010), and I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Telling the Truth About Perfectionism, Inadequacy, and Power (2007).
Last week’s episode of NPR’s On Being with Krista Tippett featured an interview with Brene. You can listen here.
Brene’s work compellingly articulates how our willingness to be vulnerable is so essential to our capacity for connection in relationships. Her description of “wholeheartedness” as a way of living that embraces vulnerability and imperfection is finding broad resonance. Interestingly, she mentions in her On Being interview that part of what inspired her to capture her concept in the word “wholehearted” was the prayer she hears often in the liturgy of her Episcopal congregation, in which the gathered body confesses to God, “we have not loved you with our whole hearts.”
I recently read her most recent book, Daring Greatly, which explores these questions, as she summarizes on her website:
“1. What drives our fear of being vulnerable?
2. How are we protecting ourselves from vulnerability?
3. What price are we paying when we shut down and disengage?
4. How do we own and engage with vulnerability so we can start transforming the way we live, love, parent, and lead?”
Can you think of many people who wouldn’t benefit from exploring these questions a bit? Regardless of whether you find her points convincing or her books engaging, you have to admit that there’s something in her work that touches on our longings–or at least those of the several million people who’ve sought out her words. For me in the particular context of my first semester of a doctoral program, Brene’s ideas have offered some validation and encouragement. Her voice has been helpful as I try to understand the insidious “imposter syndrome” that bedevils so many of us; she offers language which describes the more nuanced mechanisms that lead us in the first place to such feelings of inadequacy and fear of being exposed. As Advent begins, I also can’t help but connect her reflections on vulnerability to the impending tableau of a newborn in a stable. If for no other reason, I want to better understand the richness of vulnerability because it surely echoes something about the character of a God whose power and whose desire for connection is revealed in such utterly exposed places as the manger and the cross.