Let’s Get Real

Brené Brown. Now, that woman is an inspiration. Gritty. Determined. Smart. Funny. And clear as a bell. And she’s so unflappable. That’s what I want to be: unflappable.

No such luck.

I think they created the head exploding emoticon for me. Up. Down. Chaotic. Calm. Happy. Sad. Angry. Loving. Brave. Scared. Inspired. And that’s all before I get out of bed. I’m as flappable as an untethered spinnaker.

Each time I listen to Brené’s TED talk, “The Power of Vulnerability,” my life changes just a little bit more. I feel glimmers of hope for people like me who are often accused of being “too open” or “too direct.” The way I see it, I’m just real. No careful management of how people perceive me. No holding back my emotions. Just me, being me, feeling what I feel, and being fearless about sharing it. I guess I just want people to know me and accept me at least in some small way as me, warts and all.

While I strongly encourage you to click on the link, here’s my paraphrased takeaway. Brené’s research indicates that joy… peace… happiness – whatever you want to call it – is experienced through human connections. Amen, my sister. I, for one, spend most of my days tangled up in people: working with them, texting with them, socializing with them, and figuring them out. People, people, people. Nothing like the ties that bind us.

What is so confounding to me is why, if it’s proven that connections are the key to all things good, do we expend so much energy fearing and controlling them? As Brené points out, we actually shield ourselves from the potential of being scared by donning suits of armor. Why? If finding joy in life is what it’s all about, then shouldn’t we be relying on and cherishing one another above all else? Regardless of approach, presentation, or style, do we not share the common intention of being good people and doing things that positively impact those around us? Assuming you agree, why are we so resistant to connecting the real versions of ourselves to one another? Are we so afraid of feeling uncomfortable in that we won’t even try?

As luck would have it, technology has given us an easy out from facing the vulnerability that is at the core of being able to be and accept real. Our worlds are replete with connections, which we can quantify with a quick swipe right. We surf, friend, like, love, share, and digitize our hours away “connecting” at a pace and facility that strengthens our sense of belonging. I should be grateful, right? How else would I have survived the 5,000 mile distance between my kids and me or the physical isolation I would have felt living on this rock so far away from my foundational relationships were it not for social media and my cell phone.

If you’re old like me, though, you will remember the days when meeting someone in passing was just that… a passing moment, soon to be a memory that would stick or dissolve. We’d get to idealize or dismiss any new connection, but eventually they all would just fade into a pleasant and non-threatening blur. Now, we practically lead with our digital handles, and we all know how to avoid an emotional goodbye by offering a “See you on Facebook!”

Those fleeting experiences were nice beyond their simplicity, weren’t they? The kind of experiences that adventures were made of. Pining for someone we met for just a brief time, wanting to connect again with them, thinking about the pleasure we felt in our temporary interaction… such good, raw emotions of connection.

Now? We are tethered together from “hello.” Potentially for life. No matter that I can’t always recall who you are when you appear on my timeline. You’re “liking proof” that I am connected.

No one would deny that “digitationships” are rapidly deteriorating our understanding of and appreciation for the power of human-to-human, real-life connectedness. But I think there also another, equally sad result that is taking its toll. With so many people we can point to as like-minded and validating, our tolerance for unique thought and general difference is rapidly diminishing. Evaporating is any authentic curiosity about the things that make us unique from one another. It seems we are finding more and more comfort in distance, so much so that we are losing not just our willingness but also our interest in the vulnerability inherent in real human interaction.

Back to Brené.

I believe that vulnerability – the willingness to be ‘all in’ even when you know it can mean failing and hurting – is brave.”

God love this woman.

In the video, she points out that vulnerability is essential to our ability to be compassionate and hopeful beings who nourish and strengthen connections. There’s virtually no risk of losing everything as so many of our ancestors faced, necessitating them to fight or die. Seems to me that now is the ideal time to fortify our connections to one another.

Here’s my problem; the math doesn’t add up. Brené gives me hope for the deep desire I have for connections that feed my soul, give my purpose, and make life worth living. And yet, how do I stand a chance when we’re living in a world where we increasingly are not really there for one another, are not really brave? Let’s be real, vulnerability has been reduced to a form of weakness.

It’s ironic to me that the connections themselves are what will provide us the very safety we need to feel in order to embrace vulnerability. So, which comes first, the connection chicken or the vulnerability egg? I don’t know about you, but it sure feels like there need to be some surefire way to get through the bumbliest of bumbles, the stupidest of stupidities, and the most painful of pains without resorting to blame or – worse yet – shame or self-loathing.

Is it possible to evolve to a place where our instincts lead with the questions, “What compassion, love, and forgiveness do my connections need, and what joy, calm, or kindness might I be missing or eliminating altogether by donning my armor?”

How do we, together, become more vulnerable? How do we become brave enough to take on the force of fear in order to find safety and love in one another? An what do we do to bring along those unable to try and to outsmart those not willing?

It would seem the answer lies with the questions. Literally… asking lots of questions. If we don’t know something, let’s find out more. If we haven’t been able to accomplished something, let’s ask for help it. If we are unable to do something, let’s let someone show us how. There’s so much to be gained in asking  and so much to lose in being sure we know. A single day of exploring what is unfamiliar and uncomfortable will pay in spades, if only to prevent a day – and all of the potential connections – lost to fear.

Look at me, feeling all unflappable and shit.