In Daring Greatly, Brene Brown borrows the words of Theodore Roosevelt to encourage us to find the courage to be vulnerable. Vulnerability, which she says encompasses uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure, “sounds like truth and feel like courage”. The book takes a very common sense, practical approach. Findings from the author’s extensive research are presented, and this is done in a way that is engaging and didn’t feel like reading about research.
The author challenges several myths about vulnerability, including the idea that it is a weakness. She points out that daring greatly requires challenging shame and the gremlins it fills our heads with. She has come up with term “gremlin ninja warrior training” to describe how to build shame resilience; this includes recognizing shame, talking about how you feel, and reaching out for help.
She identifies varies strategies (e.g. perfectionism and numbing) that we use to shield ourselves from vulnerability, and ways that we can break down those shields that are holding us back. She believes that disengagement underlies many social problems, and this is influenced by the gap between our the values we practice and the values we aspire to. She offers “minding the gap” as a daring greatly strategy to combat this.
The section on rehumanizing education and work resonated particularly strongly with me, as I have experienced workplace bullying. A culture of shame in the workplace may be demonstrated through behaviours such as blaming, gossiping, favouritism, name-calling, and harassment. It can be even more overt when shame is used as a management tool through the use of “bullying, criticism in front of colleagues, public reprimands, or reward systems that intentionally belittle people.” This kind of shaming “crushes our tolerance for vulnerability, thereby killing engagement, innovation, creativity, productivity, and trust.”
There is also a chapter devoted to parenting. Parenting has been shown to be a key predictor in how susceptible children are to shame, and children need to experience compassion, connection, worthiness, and belonging, not fear, blame, shame, and judgment. None of the recommendations she makes are new and earthshattering, but they are all powerful and remind us to be aware of the messages we are conveying and behaviours we are modelling.
Society often tells us that being vulnerable is a sign of weakness. This book does an excellent job of challenging that and demonstrating how courageous and powerful being vulnerable really is. Mental illness in particular tends to make us fearful of being vulnerable, and this book offers some very good food for thought.
If you’re interested in finding out more about Brene Brown’s ideas on vulnerability, you can find her TED Talks here.
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