Vulnerability. Right now it is one of those words that is enjoying a bit of a buzz. It started with Brene Brown and her TED talk and then really took off when she wrote a book called Daring Greatly and when she scored an interview with Oprah to push the book, the two ladies loved each other so much, Oprah lent Brene one of her shirts so that they could shoot two shows instead of the scheduled one.
Since then these two ladies have created a course that you can buy on Oprah’s website. And here I am, on the other side of the planet, feeling challenged to be vulnerable in 2014.
A few years ago I used to declare that ‘I don’t do vulnerability’. It just seemed weird to me, letting people in, having them see what hurts my feelings and most importantly, what brings me joy. Not just sensual things like crispy chips with a good chilli sauce, but the real stuff.
Opening myself up to moments of connection with other human beings – not only letting them see me, but allowing myself to see them and to hang with what they are really experiencing, not what I tell myself they are feeling or experiencing.
Looking at Kikuyu culture, it isn’t hard to see how I got here. Ours is not a culture that has much time for feelings and introspection. We are doers and whatever feelings we might have had were quashed by the colonial aim to ‘civilize’ us.
Even in other Kenyan cultures, it doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to see how emotional sensitivity can be interpreted as weakness and a point of shame.
So here I am, 35 and leaning into the space of vulnerability. I am realizing that even the vocabulary is different. Vulnerability necessitates an invitation from one person to another to be authentic.
You cannot goad or mock another into vulnerability, nor can you go into the space at a sprint without the other person’s permission. Each participant has to be ready and willing to be open.
Are you wondering why I am doing this? Well there are a few spaces in my life where I have managed to create truly authentic relationships and frankly, they seem magical. To know another person and be known by them? To be accepted without reservation?
That level of intimacy is so amazing when you are in the middle of it; it feels like your very own bespoke fantasy came to life. Remember the last time you and a friend laughed so hard at the same joke but the people around you didn’t get it?
Did you feel like you were in your own little cocoon? Well I have learnt that I can create those moments of connection by being vulnerable and asking people to get in the vulnerable space with me.
It is hard learning to flex a muscle I have ignored for so long, and it has been painful sometimes when people have refused to be open with me or even mocked my vulnerability… but when it goes right, when all the cogs fit, it feels like early morning sunshine.