Vulnerability- The Art of Learning
It is July 1982, the month of hot summer heat in Bikaner (Rajasthan, India), with the temperature rising above 40 degrees Celsius. I am 8 years old, and I just got promoted to 4th grade. I am sitting next to a friend who takes out a pencil that has a whistle on the top. The teacher is writing notes on the board, and we are busy exchanging pleasantries, and suddenly my friend gives me the pencil. Being one of those kids who play and lose themselves in play, I started to whistle while the class is running. A loud sound pierced through a rather pin-drop silence. The teacher asks the entire class to name the person who just made that sound. Everyone started acting innocent, including me. Nothing happens, but on some level within, I begin to feel guilty about my action.
The day at school has passed, and I'm walking back home from school. When I see my mother inside the house, I feel a strong urge to share the entire incident and come clean. Still, the guilt that is building up inside stops me from sharing the incident. In the evening, I'm sitting with my mother to discuss my events of the day. Before I know, I'm sharing the "whistling" incident with her, and she tells me to confess with my teacher without being fearful. The next day, I started to share the whole incident with the teacher in the hallway, and she started scolding me for this. On the other side, she acknowledges me for my authenticity. I noticed that the moment I shared the incident with my teacher, my guilt is gone, and I feel free again.
Another incident happens when I am about 29 years old. My father is experiencing some health concerns, and he starts vomiting. Sometime during the afternoon, I get a call from my friend's relative that my friend's pregnant wife needs help from me to take her to the hospital. I cannot leave home because of my father's health condition. Since I could not help my friend's wife in need, I did not talk to my friend for days because I live in guilt for my inaction. After around six years, I am going through a leadership program. As the program proceeds, I realize that I am subconsciously carrying this guilt inside me all these years. The next day, I go to my friend to share what I could not do that day and how guilty I have been feeling all this time. I told him that I could have done more that day, but somehow I did not do. I recommit with him for the future what his friendship means to me and that I will always be there for him in thick and thin. After sharing my heart out with him, my friend gets very emotional, and since that day, we share a very special bond. Not only has that conversation set me free, but also, I got a true friend for life.
As an American professor and author, Brené Brown said, "Daring greatly means the courage to be vulnerable. It means to show up and be seen. To ask what you need. To talk about how you're feeling. To have the hard conversation." In both life experiences mentioned above, you can see that I got new learnings, better relationships, and a great state of being by being vulnerable. The second experience I shared took me six years to be vulnerable and talk my heart out with my friend. At times, we may hold things for our lifetime and die with them without improving the situation by being vulnerable. Vulnerability makes that freedom and power available to us that allows us to better our surroundings.
We come across numerous words in our daily life that we consider as disempowering or misleading. One such term is "vulnerability." Most of you might think of "vulnerability" as a human emotion that makes you weak and compromise on your peace, dignity, and self-respect.
So let us first understand the fine line between downgrading yourself and being vulnerable.
Being vulnerable is speaking your heart out and be authentic about your in-authenticities. When I see someone vulnerable, I witness the possibility that the person is very flexible and is open to change and new learnings in life. Undoubtedly, when you are not vulnerable, you experience the psychological pressure of not-to-be vulnerable, which gives you a safe haven for now. This approach steals the opportunity from you to live a free and powerful life in the long run.
An accomplished author, Michael A. Singer, said in one of his books, "Challenging situations create the force needed to bring about change. The problem is that we generally use all the stirred-up energy intended to bring about change, to resist change." In this 21st century, with the enormous intellectual and emotional resources the world is gifted with, our perception has become conditional like never before. This selective approach can keep us comfortable and help us survive for the time being but cannot make us ready for a vibrant life for too long. To emphasize this, if we are not vulnerable, we can survive but cannot thrive.
Now, look deep within and ask yourself a question. What does it mean when you become vulnerable in any situation? Does it mean you are downgrading yourself, or does it mean you are flexible enough to change your approach in certain areas of life?
There's a saying in Hindi - "Jo ped seedhe khade rehte hain, wo jaldi kat jate hain," which means "straight standing trees are cut first." People who become vulnerable in a situation are more open and flexible to learn new areas of life. Even if you are the CEO of a company, a senior bureaucrat, or the cornerstone of your family, you will never hesitate to seek others' help when needed or accept your mistakes, learn from them and improve. Remember that the learning you need can come from any direction, at any time, and from anyone regardless of a person's role/age in society. The only thing required from you is that you are open to learning what life may bring forth.
Without being vulnerable, we go into "self-identity" mode and use only our most basic strengths to survive. As a result, our learnings stagnate. This process impacts the growth in the thought process, and when a human mind is not growing, it is dying. The learning that I am talking about here is transformative (a new kind) learning that vulnerability offers you. It is not incremental learning that is needed for survival, just like our education system. Incremental learning is essential and can help us survive, but the quality of life can be transformed to a whole new level by transformative learning alone.
Let me now switch to another side of the picture and talk about downgrading the self or others.
Suppose you get mad at someone without any reason. When you realized that your action affected the other party, you will take a step back and reflect. Being vulnerable will allow you to confront the affected party and confess your wrong-doing. Many of us don't make open, authentic conversations in such situations. Either we give reasons, justifications or we go in self-blame mode or hide. In either case, the possibility of connection and learning goes missing, and this is when we downgrade ourselves. Making mistakes is no crime; it is just human.
Vulnerability helps you deal with the situation "as is" and nowhere related to compromising with your self-respect and dignity. When you are vulnerable in such cases, you should make a declaration, "Since I got present to this distinction, I take responsibility for my action/inaction, recommit to myself and the affected party that I will not be repeating the same mistake." Someone truly said, "Acceptance causes disappearance." We need to accept the situation and people, the way they are and the way they are not. Eventually, all our concerns, fears, and worries disappear by just accepting and doing what needs to be done in those moments.
Another common fear that comes from vulnerability is that people may take advantage of you, a common myth. No one can take advantage of you if you are truly vulnerable as it will enable you to have an open and authentic conversation with anyone without worrying about "how you look before others" and "what all of this means." You don't need to protect yourself as you are consistently on a learning journey and making your cognitive pie bigger. It is true that when the pie is big enough, someone may take a small piece of it. But it still leaves the bigger portion with you. This approach will help you go a long way, far away from getting disturbed about what you could have created by just protecting your existing state of mind. I would always prefer to make a bigger pie and let some people use it. People can only use those who have something to offer. Taking a bucket out doesn't impact the ocean. Vulnerability is powerful! Being vulnerable allows you unlimited access to a big-wide ocean of learning in front of you.
I have started sharing my life experiences "As-is," whether they are white or black, without worrying about what people will think and whether it makes sense. I am confident that it will undoubtedly make a difference to the readers, and the more I share, the freer I become. A public speaker, Gabby Bernstein, has indeed said, "We put enormous effort into hiding our vulnerability, but it's our vulnerability that truly heals. When we feel safe enough to express our shadows, that's when we become free."
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