Leader: How do we create a culture of vulnerability?
Student: Well you just gotta be vulnerable to expect vulnerability, you know? Sometimes you just gotta grab it by the balls and–
Me: Uhm. That’s not true.
Leader: What do you think, Makari?
Me: To create a culture of vulnerability, you can’t just be vulnerable, you have to be willing to accept the other person in their state. I can tell you all day how I feel but that doesn’t mean anything until someone else listens. You can’t just grab vulnerability by the balls. It’s not a culture of vulnerability when one person just talks about how they feel. There has to be a safe space to create vulnerability as a culture.
Creating a culture of vulnerability around you isn’t about a few people “being open” about what they are going through. The receiving end is just as important as the giving end. If it isn’t received well, then the vulnerability gets “wasted” in a sense. One bad vulnerable experience can cause a person to never want to give themselves away like that again. If you can’t receive someone’s vulnerable state, I would suggest not letting the exchange even happen. When you want to ask someone how they are doing, but don’t expect an honest answer in return, do the other person a favor and don’t ask.
I’m someone that has no problem being real about the place that I’m in. Being real and being vulnerable are two different things. Vulnerability is where you open yourself up and are susceptible to emotional harm, whereas being real, or being transparent, allows you to be seen without the openness of being harmed.
Knowing which place you are in is important in knowing how to respond when people are talking to you.
When I am in a vulnerable state, I am very careful whom I let in or whom I talk with, because if I’m not, I can be hurt pretty easily. The last thing I want to do to myself when I am susceptible to pain, is to add more pain. I often don’t go out to parties or events, or hang out in groups, not because I don’t want to, but because I know that in my state, I am more likely to be hurt than helped.
People often confuse authenticity with vulnerability. Authenticity; being your genuine self, vs vulnerability; being raw, open and susceptible to pain. While vulnerability can be placed under authenticity, being authentic doesn’t necessarily mean being vulnerable.
When you are being your genuine self, that doesn’t mean you need to open yourself up to being susceptible to harm, but it generally does mean being transparent about who you are.
When we are in a state of vulnerability, people often commend us for being brave for talking about what we are going through, but what they don’t understand is that the way they treat us in our vulnerable state is really what changes us. Whether they commend us and then ignore us, or don’t react in a way they ought to, it’s the action of those we are vulnerable with that determines how we feel afterwards. Like I said earlier, one bad vulnerable experience can cause a person to never want to give themselves away like that again.
Sometimes, in a vulnerable state we are unfair to others because we put that pressure on them to do or say or be what we need them to be. It shouldn’t be on them if that isn’t what they want. Which is why creating a culture of vulnerability isn’t nearly as easy as it could be or maybe should be. There are always other factors in play that cause a culture of being raw to take 500 times the effort than we assume that it should.
It isn’t fair to others when we are in a vulnerable state to expect them to know that or be there for us. Which is where transparency comes in play. We need to get to a place that we can be transparent about our situation and the help we need, but not necessarily be vulnerable like we are, until it is the right space for us to do so. That’s hard. That takes dedication and allowing yourself to be open to people, but not open to pain at the same time. It requires people around you that you trust to help you in your vulnerability, so that you can be transparent in a group of people without getting hurt.
The responses are different. The way you explain how you are feeling to the people with your trust in vulnerability will be different internally for you than the responses you give to people who aren’t ready for it.
We can’t expect everybody to be ready to handle us in a vulnerable place when they were just grabbing a coffee and saw you sitting in the shop, or at the grocery store, or even at church, and decided to ask us how we are. We expect a lot of others, more than we should, when really it’s our responsibility to ourselves to give out our vulnerability to those who can take care of it.
It’s a precious gift to hold what is dear to someone else. Creating an entire culture with those who do that is a tremendous joy that is rarely found. I found it once, and I’m not sure I ever will again, but I do look for it and long for it on a daily basis. When you know something spectacular truly exists, it changes everything about the way you live your life.