How can any of us get to the place where we can start exposing our soft underbelly to someone else?
Gathered today are Seattle Seahawks Quarterback Russell Wilson and Social Worker, Researcher and Educator Brene Brown, to discuss vulnerability in general, and vulnerability and men in our society. In my mind, both of these individuals should be awarded some honour for their humanitarian and leadership work. Both model respect, courage, community, connection, gratitude, honesty, positivity, and accountability.
At the outset, our interviewees could not appear more different: one male, the other female; one a sports superstar, the other a social researcher; one African-American, the other Caucasian; they are also separated almost generationally. Yet, when I think of hero’s available to us who model the behaviours and values that will propel our society into a more loving, connected and compassionate sphere, these two pop into my mind.
To say I have a crush on both of them might be an understatement. I come to the table to moderate the conversation as a divorcing Canadian woman in her early forties who is just scratching the surface of vulnerability in her own life. Truthfully, it was only through the painful post-mortem dissection of a marriage that I realized how infrequently, if ever, I was vulnerable with the person theoretically closest to me.
Moderator: “Brene and Russell, thank you so much for being with us today. Could you both please tell our audience how you define vulnerability?”
Russell: “Vulnerability is accessibility to an even greater possibility.”
Brene: “Vulnerability is risk, uncertainty and emotional exposure.”
Moderator: “Both of you have intriguing responses and I would like to hear more from each of you and uncover what that really means to you. Brene, would you like to start with a deeper exploration of how you perceive vulnerability?”
Brene: “Vulnerability is the birthplace of everything we’re hungry for.” It’s about “showing up and being seen” and “is the key to having meaningful human experiences.”
Russell: “It’s a great journey that you go on. It’s a journey that you keep believing in and trusting in.” “My goal’s to be significant; my goal’s to make a difference.”
Moderator: “Russell, when I first read your quote about vulnerability, I instantly thought back to the heartbreaking loss of Superbowl 49. You were very quick to take full responsibility for the final play of that game, the shocking pass that ultimately led to the interception and loss. I interpret your statement about vulnerability within the framework of guessing what your reality could have been in the hours, days and weeks after that game. I think you are saying that without taking responsibility for your decision making, you would have been unable to process your emotions and pick apart your thought process at that moment in the game, but because you are open to vulnerability, you are now able to learn from that experience. This in turn will create new opportunities and likely future Superbowl appearances. Would that be at all in the ball park of what you meant?”
Russell: “I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been thinking about that one yard. Everyone wants to know how I feel. Well, … it’s complicated. Walking off that field in Arizona and seeing the disappointed Seahawks fans in the stands was anguish. How could I not feel like I let them down? I tried to be positive, but I’m not perfect.” “I’m the one who threw that pass, but I know that I’ll throw another one and hopefully I’ll be remembered for something different.”
Moderator: “Brene, do you have any thoughts about Russell’s process regarding the loss?”
Brene: “If you are going to show up and be seen, there is only one guarantee, and that is, you will get your ass kicked.” “That’s the only certainty you have.” “If courage is a value that we hold, this is a consequence. You can’t avoid it.” “If courage is my value, I have to do this. Whether it’s successful or not is irrelevant.”
Moderator: “Thank you both for your thoughts on that difficult topic. To get specific for our audience today, what are the challenges you see the men in our society today facing in expressing vulnerability?”
Brene – “Men walk this tightrope where any sign of weakness illicits shame, and so they’re afraid to make themselves vulnerable for fear of looking weak.”
Moderator – “Russell, you have been known to cry publicly, do you believe you are showing signs of weakness when you cry?”
Russell: “I’m not a very good crier, I’ll say that. I look ugly when I cry, huh?” “I’m not a very close-minded person, … I think that lets me relax.”
Moderator: “I love and respect that you won’t apologize for crying or engage in shame. Russell, can you speak to a relationship you have with a man that is significant in your life?”
Russell: “I think the relationship that Coach Carroll and I have is a great one because we believe in, just, the positivity of speaking the right way.”
Moderator: “What can men do within their relationships to increase vulnerability?”
Russell: “Get all the noise out of the way, ignore the noise, … be engaged.”
Moderator: “Thank you Russell, you are an outstanding example for not only our young men, but our young women too of what men can act like.”
Russell: “I’m still young. I’m just trying to learn as much as I can and I’m on that constant quest for knowledge.”
Moderator: “I think a feeling of having a sacred home-space, intimacy, and being accepted for who you are as an imperfect human being are needs that cross cultures and genders, and that connection cannot happen without vulnerability. Brene, you’ve spoken about wearing the days suit of armour to bed. How can any of us get to the place where we can remove the armour, get naked, and start exposing our soft underbelly to someone else?”
Brene: “Love; belonging; irreducible needs of men, women and children.” “In the absence of love and belonging, there is always suffering.” “We can only love, and be loved, as much as we are willing to have our heart broken.” “It’s not as scary … as getting to the end of our lives and wondering, what if I would have shown up? What would have been different?”
Russell: “Be alive. Stay alive.” “You just try to add up those moments and have a lot more great moments than bad moments.”
Moderator: “Something my boyfriend says to me that I find lovely is that when we touch or cuddle, he feels ‘safe’. I think it is an atypical comment for a man to openly acknowledge a need for safety within the relationship. I think it is usually the woman who craves safety and looks to the male partner to provide that, either physically or verbally. Do either of you have thoughts on that?”
Brene: “Vulnerability is the path to love, belonging, joy, intimacy, trust, innovation and creativity.” “Without vulnerability you cannot create.”
Moderator: “Speaking of creating, Brene, according to Entrepreneur Magazine, your vulnerability talk is now the fourth most popular TED talk of all time with over 19 million views. How does that feel?”
Brene: “I’m just so grateful.” “It’s neither good nor bad. It just is what it is.”“I never thought that I would have a big public career. .. In the wake of that, I was kind of everywhere for a couple of months, … it was something I wasn’t used to.”
Russell: “I can’t even compare myself to that.”
Moderator: “One comment from you Brene that I loved from your Super Soul Sunday interview was that since 9/11 the United States has been in ‘scarcity mode,’ and the first victim of a scarcity culture is vulnerability. When I heard that the first time, I instantly thought of a favourite television show The Walking Dead. Any fan of the show can look at Rick’s group, particularly last season as they entered the community of Alexandria where the inhabitants have been greatly sheltered from the ravages of living wild, and reflect on the juxtaposition the two merging camps of people present. I often wondered why there was so little sex in the post-apocalyptic world, but now I understand. These warriors are so armoured up, and constantly on alert for their very lives, they have no opportunity to be vulnerable with each other. As you have said Brene, when we are constantly competing and don’t feel safe enough or secure enough, we shut down emotionally. It is illustrated in the show with Rick’s groups physical need for weaponry, in their body language, and in their stilted and heavily weighted conversations. The writers and actors of that show do a masterful job of communicating so much with as few words as possible. Do either of you watch the show?”
Russell: “The guys … cold as ice.”
Brene: “We live in a vulnerable world. And one of the ways we deal with it is we numb vulnerability.” “You cannot selectively numb emotion.” “You can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing the other … emotions…. When we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then, we are miserable.”
Moderator: “I am so grateful to you both for participating in this sharing circle of connection today. It has been a dream of mine to sit you two leaders down and capture some of your thoughts on vulnerability and connection. Many thanks to you both for your time today.”
Clearly, the writer has taken actual quotes by the two speakers wildly out of context, and without their permission, for the sake of holding this imaginary conversation. I hope you have not only been entertained, but inspired to watch one of Brene Browns many talks on vulnerability.