We each try to bring in a new year with the optimism of hopes, desires, resolutions, and plans. Brené Brown’s book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, is a wonderful guide to help each of us transform not only our own lives, but also those of our children, employees, co-workers, friends, spouses, and eventually the entire world.
The phrase “daring greatly” was drawn from a speech “Citizenship in a Republic” delivered in Paris, France on April 23, 1910 by Theodore Roosevelt. Here is the excerpt that Brown quotes as she defines what it means to dare greatly:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust, and sweat, and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”
What are you protecting in your life? Daring Greatly teaches shame resilience and reality checking. It is a book full of encouragement and hard questions about fear and desire. One of the greatest fears of all humans is to be excluded from the group, to be isolated, to feel unworthy of love and acceptance. We all share the desire to live from our true and authentic self. The two often seem to be at odds, impossible to reconcile. Few have the courage to live fully and wholeheartedly, risking rejection by the group, being shamed, ridiculed, even killed. Humans often shut down their emotions, disengage from the social contract, and engage in cruel behavior, demonstrating cynicism, anger and hatred of self or others in order to protect their hidden most vulnerable self. The price we all pay for the shaming and the culture of scarcity in which we live is painfully high. Without vulnerability, we lose the ability to be creative, to have authentic emotional connection, and live satisfying meaningful lives. We promote fear, low self-esteem, even self-hatred. Our shame-driven culture is so pervasive, most people don’t even notice that they are engaging in shaming behaviors at home, in the workplace, at school, in politics, and they don’t notice how these behaviors are creating a world of terror and despair. Daring Greatly provides numerous strategies for the ready to remain emotionally intact and empathic even in difficult situations.
Brené Brown is a researcher of shame and vulnerability, two difficult and primordially important behaviors and aspects of being that we all need to explore in order to lead authentic and productive lives. In her book, she explores the following questions:
- What drives our fear of being vulnerable?
- How are we protecting ourselves from vulnerability?
- What price are we paying when we shut down and disengage?
Brown emphasizes throughout the book, which is well-organized and easy to read, how facing our vulnerabilities is uncomfortable. When opportunities for growth are present, we will most likely feel uneasy and anxious. This is normal. It takes great courage to face one’s own pain. The greatest gift that comes out of looking within and not shirking from the dread, is the ability to live authentically, to be able to love and to know that you are worthy of love from others. And yet, our societies are built on a foundation of shaming practices and scarcity. Brown explains what scarcity means: Scarcity is the “never enough problem” which thrives in shame-prone cultures that are deeply steeped in comparison and fractured by disengagement. She lists the following examples of scarcity that we encounter every day:
- Never good enough
- Never perfect enough
- Never thin enough
- Never powerful enough
- Never successful enough
- Never smart enough
- Never certain enough
- Never safe enough
- Never extraordinary enough
The truth is, life is full of uncertainty. We can’t control the outcomes of so many events. We can’t perfectly protect our children or prepare them for everything they will face. We can’t be perfect enough to please our parents or anyone else some or all of the time. But we can choose to stop trying to be perfect and start accepting ourselves. We can stand up for what we feel is right. We can show courage and vulnerability by speaking up for the right to be ourselves and the desire to be celebrated as we are. We can take the risk to show up and put our writing, art work, business plan, music, or our feelings out into the open. People are critical and they judge and compare others when they feel they don’t live up to their own expectations. The confessional blogs and tweets we encounter online, however, Brown explains, are not illustrations of vulnerability. To earn trust in any relationship, we should open ourselves little by little, by stages. Dumping too much emotion and experience all at once, according to the author, is disrespectful of others’ boundaries. Sharing vulnerability is a give and take, and it is the foundation of all true relationships to self and others. Brown teaches the reader to combat shame through a technique she calls “shame resilience” to bullying in schools and at the workplace. She makes a great case for the power of vulnerability and the courage of those who proudly proclaim their own. She takes on shaming in relationships of all kinds, and gives hope that more of us will stand up and own our experiences, our pain, and live up to the promise of our authentic self.