Someone once told me that vulnerability is what we most want to see in others and least want to be seen in ourselves. Becoming vulnerable can be one of the most difficult and uncomfortable experiences. Exposure of secrets, mistakes, flaws, and sins leave a person open to scrutiny which is hard to bear. We seem to be set up for all kinds of personal loss. Reputations painstakingly built up over long periods of time are rendered precarious or come crashing down in unmendable pieces. The grief which follows is almost impossible to bear.
We live in an age where it is increasingly difficult or even impossible to escape from who we are. Rabbi Moshe Scheiner recently taught that suicide rates are increasing in adults partly due to the dynamic of transparency created by instant background checks on the internet. Good names are destroyed every day. Children who suffer the loss of character due to perceptions of peers, bullying and cyber victimization can feel so trapped and hopeless that they consider or commit suicide. Becoming vulnerable can create the deepest feelings of shame when those whom we trust wound us.
When we are grieving we become vulnerable. In fact, it has been said that grief and vulnerability go together hand-in-hand. Either can come first but neither walk alone. The word vulnerable comes from the Latin word vulnera which means to wound. In our most wounded times, we are laid bare. Lost is our stature and resolve. No longer can we appear strong and self-reliant. Our pain is visible to everyone. This begs a rather obvious solution. Just never allow yourself to become vulnerable and then the grief would remain private. manageable, and controlled. Voilà. Unfortunately, there is a horrible downside to that. If we don’t allow vulnerability, we will never experience authentic friendships, belonging, trust, or love. What we all have in common is our brokenness and when the risk of vulnerability is rejected true connections are impossible. If all of this is true then how could vulnerability and grief be so discouraged in our society? I guess because it is just so hard to go there.
Perhaps we could find some answers from Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, author, and popular TED Talk personality. Dr. Brown has made it her mission to explore the power of vulnerability. She emphases how important it is to dare greatly in order to live life fully and to achieve success. And more can be discovered in the spiritual wisdom of Richard Rohr, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation who tells us that vulnerability is the path to wholeness and holiness.
In the final analysis, we have to come to the realization that it is not only okay to grieve and to become vulnerable, but it is also necessary. If we are to heal we must be touched. The work can never be accomplished alone. There are big risks associated with all of this to be certain. But from our perceived weakness will come a new kind of strength. Not the strength of the invulnerable but the strength of love. For, as scripture tells us, the one who stumbles “shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary,” (See Isaiah 40:31).
The premise of my journal entry, The Fear That Divides Us, was that many Americans today seem to be overwhelmed by fear of those who are strangers or in some way not-like-us. Of course, this is nothing unique to our time or generation. Fear of ‘the other’ has been around as long as there have been human beings. Historically, it seems difficult to love and accept those who we cannot relate to or understand. We are naturally suspicious.
“I think what we’re seeing today is just because the spiritual waters have receded and so all the filth that lies at the bottom of human nature, so to speak, is being revealed. Hatred has always been around. Obviously, it’s human frailty that causes that, and tribalism, and then fear of the stranger.” ~ Rabbi Moshe Scheiner Beyond Fear and Anger
Categorizing, diagnosing, and labeling people allow us to disguise our fears by compartmentalizing them. It allows us the smug comfort of stereotyping groups of individuals so that we are never required to know them on a personal level. Perhaps this is at the root of our crisis of fear in America. We have insulated ourselves so tightly that it is impossible to know one another. Our perception of spiritual, philosophical, physical, emotional, and moral otherness has reached explosive proportions.
The apostle Paul broke down walls of spiritual division and exclusivity by bringing his message to the gentiles more than two thousand years ago. He understood that the gospel of love was meant for everyone and found getting to know people eliminated fear and created bonds of oneness. Paul discovered the face of God in everyone everywhere. We are seeing through the glass darkly because we cannot bear to look at the stranger face to face. (See 1 Corinthians 13:12). Our fears will not be dispelled until we are fully known to one another.
“He that would have a perfect brother must resign himself to being brotherless.” ~ Italian Proverb
I’m not perfect…Nobody is. When we expect perfection of ourselves or others and find it to be lacking, the next step is to find someone to blame. Blaming other people, places or things is a waste of time as well as a spiritual drain. The ability to form creative solutions is diminished or eliminated. After all, what does blaming accomplish? We expend our energy finding fault and complaining only to discover that doing so has rendered us ‘brotherless’ and isolated in an ego created cocoon.
There exists a remarkable opportunity to embrace blame as a guidepost to better understanding our imperfections setting us free to explore our common brokenness. Looking within, we will then find how much alike we really are. Life becomes an adventure in humility where we seek counsel, wisdom and ways to become better members of an inclusive community. Though perfection can never be found, we will know real peace and happiness as we become open to new dimensions of relationships with others and with ourselves..
Robert Kenneth Jones is an innovator in the treatment of addiction and childhood abuse.
In a career spanning over four decades, his work helping people recover from childhood abuse and addiction has earned him the respect of his peers.
His blog, An Elephant for Breakfast, testifies to the power of the human spirit to overcome the worst of life’s difficulties. We encourage you to visit and share this rich source of healing, inspiration and meditation.