Finding Courage in These Days of Vulnerability

You cannot live when you are untouchable. Life is vulnerability.  —Edouard Boubat

B rené Brown writes and speaks on the topic of emotional vulnerability. She describes vulnerability brought on by shame and guilt but also the vulnerability we feel when we take risks. On her website she says: I believe that vulnerability – the willingness to be “all in” even when you know it can mean failing and hurting – is brave. Much of her inspiring work is focused on recognizing the sources of vulnerability and finding the path to courage – to be brave. If you’ve never seen it, watch her original TED talk here.

Brown’s work on vulnerability is powerfully compelling and reveals truths that are very real to all of us. This week’s attack in New York reminds of another form of vulnerability: the physical risk of simply walking down a street. Our world can be a cruel and dangerous place. When a human being chooses to attack and kill others in these random, unprovoked ways, we are left feeling confused, uncertain, and vulnerable. The rational mind cannot comprehend it. Mass killings like we’ve seen in New York and Las Vegas feed our sense of vulnerability because we know it could have been any one of us walking on that street or attending that concert.

But our sense of vulnerability doesn’t stop there. In the last six months, I’m aware of five men who have had heart attacks – 3 died. In the last year, I know of at least five cancer diagnoses in my immediate circle. We are bombarded daily with posts and images talking about individual battles with disease and the heartache that ensues. On top of it all, we see wild stories of sexual predators hiding in plain sight as they ply their craft in the daily course of their work in the office, on the Hollywood set, or pretty much anywhere that human beings cross paths. How are we to believe that we are not vulnerable night and day?

The truth is that we are vulnerable. However, that doesn’t mean that we have to live in fear. The good news is that we are made to be incredibly resilient and our troubles come when we give-in to the fear and doubt. Often, we don’t know how strong we really are until we’re tested. Violence, illness, and strife may be facts of life in the wider world but we don’t have to live our days waiting for them to find us.

The question is: how do we muster courage in these days of vulnerability? There are no silver bullets but perhaps we can find reassurance with some intention:

  • Remember that our system of information magnifies EVERYTHING. The news cycle runs 24/7 often repeating the same negative stories. It is OK to stay informed but we have to be wary of the dark cloud that comes with a constant stream of images, sounds, and words that convey how bad things are.  The news will almost always sound worse, more pervasive, and more imminent than reality.
  • Knowing that bad news sells better than good news, seek good news. Find the stories of success, healing, overcoming, and inspiration. The positive stories remind us of the immense capacity for goodness within people and that more of us are working toward goodness than not.
  • Focus on your circle of influence and stay out of your circle of concern. What is it we can impact and manage within our day? What is impossible to control, predict, and anticipate? Letting go frees us to be brave. This doesn’t mean that we aren’t aware of our surroundings, that we don’t keep an eye on others, or that we expose ourselves unnecessarily – it just means that courage will be found by focusing on what we can do and not on what others might do.
  • Courage can also be found by sticking together. Physical togetherness and emotional togetherness strengthen us. Find your tribe. Stick together.
  • Focus on your well-being. Taking care of yourself goes a long way toward reassurance. Preventive maintenance, check-ups, diet, exercise, meditation, worship – invest in these courage building activities.
  • Embrace the spiritual. Without a sense of higher purpose and the divine, we feel that we’re walking alone. Faith in something more braces us for the unexpected. Looking to something higher shifts our focus from our self to a broader sense of meaning and purpose.
  • Show love, mercy, and compassion to others every chance you get. Perhaps the greatest protection from a sense of vulnerability is to give of ourselves fully. Fear and doubt follow self-absorption and giving freely to others is to pass through vulnerability to purpose and generosity; both of which strengthen us in profound ways. In some magical way, connecting with purpose and embracing generosity elevate us and seem to put us above the smallness of humanity’s darker inclinations.

Living in our world is to live with vulnerability but it doesn’t have to mean living in fear. Brené Brown has some great things to say about living wholeheartedly and finding bravery by walking into vulnerability. Though we can’t escape vulnerability, we can refuse to let it lessen our joy and push forward into the blessings of life fully. Be vulnerable. Be brave. Live fully.


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