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vulnerability

Can you hear me now?

“Can you hear me? Can you hear me now?Remember the Verizon commercial advertising better connection.

2016, the year of the most connected society that’s ever lived.  A device in our pocket connects us to our children, our hair stylist, our boss, our suppliers, our neighbors, and our grocers at the push of a button. An order can be placed and received within 24 hours; a tune up on the car can be scheduled; instructions about “how to” can be downloaded.  No group of people in history has ever been so connected.  And yet . . .

We are more isolated than ever.  We sit alone in our cars ordering our pizza for supper.  We sit alone in our homes scrolling through social media.  We sit alone in our office surfing the web looking for answers to our dilemmas. The last two evenings, I’ve listened to two different groups of people who have been intentional about building community.  They’ve purposely begun to live life together.  It was a decision they made and some of them had never experienced that level of connection before.  

Connecting through technology is not the same as connecting in community.  True connection in authentic community looks like vulnerability.  Vulnerability comes at a cost.  So community needs to be trustworthy.  I watched a 30-something, motorcycle riding, inked-up, family man (and btw he’s much, much more than that) point his finger at a friend in his community and say, “We can cry with you about the junk in our lives because you are trustworthy.” Real connection requires vulnerability but vulnerability can only exist when the community is trustworthy.  

Engagement becomes authentic when the community values each other.  When everyone’s voice is important and everyone has something to offer, then engagement will be a natural by-product.  Most of us protect ourselves by acting like we don’t need anything or anyone.  Seldom do we say, “I need . . .”  More often, we can be heard saying, “I’ve got this.” Rich community values everyone, not just the ones who dress well or have more education or do a better job of communicating.  Everyone’s voice is a necessary part of the whole in community.

Humans are designed, just like Legos, for connection.  That’s why isolation is used as a punishment.  It’s hard on us.  It’s not healthy for any of us.  One Lego standing alone is not living up to it’s full potential.  If connected to the right pieces it could become a firehouse headquarters or something equally as elaborate.

If you’ve been without community for a while, I want to suggest that it is already impacting your health, both physical and emotional.  Consider getting outside of your comfort zone and create connection with others who value you, who are trustworthy and who want to be real with you.  

 

Filling our Need for Connection

Legos are the best!  When my boys were young, we had legos everywhere.  My favorite thing to do was build houses, airplanes, tractors, people, castles, dinosaurs, star wars fighters. It’s so fascinating to connect little tiny unadorned shapes into something significant.  I experienced a big loss the day we stopped playing with legos.  Humans have a built-in need for connection.  We’re like nondescript rectangles that come together in fascinating and impressive ways when we make connections.  

Disengagement is the Problem

Brene Brown, a researcher from the University of Houston, says that disengagement is the chief issue underlying the majority of problems in families, teams, and organizations. We disengage to protect ourselves and we also disengage because we are disappointed in others.  This desire we have to protect ourselves from others' judgement typically pushes us to pretend we are near perfect.  Authenticity sounds dangerous, so we cover up who we really are.  Even though most of us would love to wave a white flag and cry, “I need help” or “This isn’t working;” instead, we smile and say, “I’ve got this.”  

Two fairly unpleasant examples of this disengagement due to disappointment are politics and religion.  Politicians are making laws that they are not obligated to follow. They speak of values that are seldom on display in their behavior.  Likewise, when religious leaders prey on our fear and need for certainty by creating a system that requires us to conform or face repercussion, the entire concept of faith is undermined.  Faith minus connection equates to extremism.  “Connection and engagement is not built on compliance, it’s the product of love, belonging, and vulnerability,” Brene Brown in Daring Greatly.  

We are not purposely creating cultures of disengagement.  However, we might not be intentionally building connection either.  How do we shape a culture of connection? Brene Brown says, “Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable.”  

Two Giants Steps toward Connecting

Living in genuine community, a place where there is real connection, has been my privilege for a couple of decades.  In the beginning, I was skeptical.  I didn't trust anyone.  I doubted the wisdom of being as authentic as the people around me.  Then I began to take risk, show a piece of myself, become transparent and vulnerable.  As I began to live like that, I gained a sense of belonging that is unexplained, a new kind of peace with who I am and a desire to be real with everyone.  This kind of connection and community is contagious. 

What if people came together with their masks off and shared their struggles?  What if we could create a culture where we show up and aren’t afraid to be seen — just us, the real deal, not the fake, pretending, perfect, show-to-the-world us.  If you don’t have that kind of community, maybe it’s time for you to create it.  Start by choosing to show up and be real, be honest, let your true self be seen.  Then create connections with others by seeing, hearing, and valuing them, just as they are.  The problem most of us face is that we want others to be vulnerable with us but vulnerability is the last thing we plan on showing them.  Vulnerability is basically uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure, no wonder it makes us uncomfortable.  Humans are designed for connection.  That means cultivating connection is a necessary part of our very health.  

What can you do to start creating this kind of connection in your family and beyond?

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BE BRAVE

 “Be brave.  I need you to be brave,” said the preschool teacher as she stood by the lone red truck on the rug.  Clean up time was over and the little ones were in line anticipating the playground.  The teacher was expecting the child who played with the red truck to take ownership and come put it away.  “BE BRAVE!”

It’s astonishing how often I’ve needed that admonition in life: BE BRAVE!  Show courage!  Face the danger! Endure the pain! It will be worth it.

The three-year-old boy stepped out of the line headed to the playground, picked up the little red truck and placed it in the “transportation” container.  It must have seemed like an eternity playing out in slow motion for him; all the while, his preschool teacher was telling him how brave he was.

I stood in the doorway of that classroom watching it all unfold twenty years ago. That snapshot plays through my mind again today.  I’ve never needed to be brave more than I do today at fifty years old.  I want desperately to step out of the place headed to where I’ve already been and move in a new direction.  It’s time for me to be brave.  Maybe you need to be brave too -- in your leadership, in your community, in your home.

What does it mean to be brave, you ask?  It means — do it afraid!  It means — take a deep breath and run toward it, not away from it.  It means — don’t let fear determine your destiny.  It means — act in spite of what you are feeling.  

Bravery is something you acquire over years of practice.  To practice bravery, start by admitting you are scared and notice that you are not alone.  You may be surprised to learn that everyone deals with this emotion. Ask them! Once you acknowledge that you (and everyone else) are afraid, name what you are afraid of.  Is it failure, humiliation, others responses?  Re-frame those fears. (It might sound something like this:  Is it failure, or is it an education?  Humiliation fosters humility which is an excellent quality in anyone.  You cannot control other people’s responses, so why let that control you.)  After you re-frame your fears, embrace uncertainty.  Life is full of risks and uncertainty, so embrace your vulnerability and take a step forward.

BE BRAVE!  The world needs all of us to be brave.  Show courage to step out of the pack and move in a different direction -- a direction that calls you to more.  Face the danger of starting over, if you’ve ended up in a misguided place.  Endure the pain of disapproval from your peers and begin something new. It will be worth it for you, your family, and the community around you.  


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