While struggling with my mother’s “you will be a great man” programming (see “On Being ‘Great,’”) my therapist, Rebecca Crabb, Ph.D., suggested I check out a TED Talk on vulnerability. Weeks later, a Google search led me to “The Power of Vulnerability” by Brene Brown. When I noted that it had received 21 million views since it was posted in June 2010 (the fourth most popular TED Talk of all time), my hopes increased. While reading the transcript, I sensed my timing was fortuitous.
I had one or two disagreements with some of her statements, including “Connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.” Connection is not our only purpose. It’s also a means to other, deeper ends.
But overall the talk rang true. While reading it, I copied the following excerpts:
• Shame is really easily understood as the fear of disconnection: Is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy of connection?
• What underpinned this shame, this “I’m not good enough…”?
• In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.
• The people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging.
• Whole-hearted people, living from this deep sense of worthiness.
• What they had in common was a sense of courage.
• The courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others.
• And the last was they had connection, and — this was the hard part — as a result of authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were.
• The other thing that they had in common was this: They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful.
• They’re willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out.
• Stop controlling and predicting.
• We numb vulnerability.
• You cannot selectively numb emotion.
• The other thing we do is we make everything that’s uncertain certain.
• To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee.
• And the last, which I think is probably the most important, is to believe that we’re enough.
The next day I posted to Facebook:
I went to sleep saying to myself, “I am good enough,” and woke up after a good eight-hour sleep with the same thought on my mind. If I can maintain that attitude, I will be like a new person, transformed, evolved to a higher level. As I argued in “On Being ‘Great,” I’ve concluded that we cannot rank people in terms of how good they are, because we can’t totally put ourselves in others’ shoes, read their minds, or see their souls. I can only say, “I am a good person, and I can be a better person.” (None of us are perfect.) Also, I cannot rank people because I grew up in a dysfunctional family and tend to circulate with others who did as well. Undoing, partially, the damage that my family and our society inflicted on me has required great effort. How much more progress I can achieve remains to be seen.
In my taxi, I’ve encountered many families and couples who appear to be remarkably healthy. My impression is that people who’ve been raised in healthy families associate with others who’ve had the same experience. This segregation makes it even harder to compare and rank people in terms of how evolved they are.
But the bottom line is that any such differences, even if we could measure them, would be relatively insignificant, for what we have in common, our humanity, is much more important.
That post received 17 “likes” (many times more than my posts normally receive), one share (which is unusual), and comments from Steven Pak, “Wow! What’ a great thought with great impression and admiration…,” and Justice St Rain, “I’m a big fan of affirmations. Paraphrasing the sacred text is a good way to super-charge an affirmation. For example ‘I was created Noble.’”
Later, I posted:
If I am “good enough,” I need not worry about what others think about me. I can trust that I will act compassionately, doing the best I can, for good reasons…. I may want others to do something and ask them to do it, in which case I will be careful about what I say and try to be effective. But I need not NEED them to do what I want for the sake of my own self-validation. So if they say no, I need not take it personally and feel hurt. I can trust they are doing what they need to do…. And if they have something to say to me, I will try to listen and respond compassionately and learn from their feedback how to be more effective. But if they are silent, I need not pull their comments out of them in order to reassure myself. I can relax and trust myself…. And if I end up without a soulful face-to-face connection, then I will be alone but not lonely.
Several days later, I reported on these reflections to a friend who resonated with them and told me that when she was growing up, her mother often told her, “What others think of you is none of your business.”
When I posted that comment, one friend commented, “True, unless one is being a total jerk. Then it SHOULD be your business. Saw this first-hand on a Muni bus the other night.”
I replied, “If another is violating the rights of another, an intervention to stop it is justified. Whether that requires trying to analyze why they are doing it or what they think about me is another matter. I tend to think not.”
Another friend responded, “Sounds like words of great wisdom to me. Do you think she was talking about psychiatrists?” Thinking that therapy tends to involve trying to read others’ minds (it’s hard enough to know my own), I replied, “It may well undermine the typical therapy dynamic.”
It’s only been a week, but the “I am good enough” insight prompted by that TED Talk seems to be holding. My mood has been more consistently positive, and I do seek constancy. Feeling less pressure to prove myself (to myself and others) and worrying less what others think about me has been liberating.
I still believe in personal growth, however, and see no contradiction between the two perspectives. So, believing it’s possible to hold both at the same time, I’ve modified the maxim to read, “I’m good enough to be better.”