Saturday, November 10, 2012

Book Review - Daring Greatly by Brene' Brown

Brene' Brown has helped me find a missing piece to a puzzle I've been seeking to solve for a very long time.  I first learned about her work from a TED talk.  And, being inspired by that, sought her books.  This being the first I read.  Brown has done extensive research in to Wholehearted Living and has drawn some fascinating conclusions.  Foremost is strong evidence that wholeheartedness requires the courage to be vulnerable.  Something I hardly suspected.

I was struck by her discussion on the difference between belonging and fitting in.  Here are three definitions she drew from countless interviews:
  • Belonging is being somewhere where you want to be, and they want you.  Fitting in is being somewhere you really want to be, but they don't care one way or the other.
  • Belonging is being accepted for you.  Fitting in is being accepted to being like everyone else.
  • I get to be me if I belong.  I have to be like you to fit in.
Based on those definitions, I don't belong much.  I didn't even belong in my own family as a child.  I had to spend all my efforts fitting in.  I wasn't allowed to be me.  I was expected to be a carbon copy of my Dad; which I was totally incapable to doing.  Much of the time I feel the same way at church, as do most of us I think.  In my High Priests Quorum, for example, we have a lot of great men, who are fitting in, but seem to have no sense of belonging.  Our Quorum is supposed to provide a sense of brotherhood.  I doesn't seem to.  We meet together for three hours every Sunday, but then have little or nothing to do with one another the rest of the week.  Of 20 or so men in that group, I can think of one who has ever been in my home.  Now, I'm not pointing fingers and casting blame, yet.  I'm just making an observation.  

So, what has this got to do with vulnerability and courage?  If Brown is correct, which I believe she is, the blame doesn't lie necessarily with my High Priest's Group, for example; but with me.  In trying to fit in, I am guarded and withdrawn; lacking the courage to present myself as I really am.  Instead, I want to be accepted and culturally have come to the conclusion that they don't want me; only the person I am pretending to be.  According to Brown the responsibility for the fix lies entirely with me.  Now, you can probably see how putting my true self out there might be pretty scary.  That's a pretty vulnerable place to go.  It will require courage.  It might be tempting to remain with the status quo, except; (and here's the rub) we can't really connect at a meaningful level with others if we're are not vulnerably authentic.

I don't think I have to do a lot of persuading to help you realize that connection is one of the things we humans crave the most and often enjoy the least.  Many of  us disconnect out of fear.  Fear of being found lacking in some way.  None of us are perfect, but we get pretty obsessed with presenting ourselves as such in order to fit in.  Certainly it would be nice if those around us from parents and teachers to employers and associates created an environment in which we didn't think vulnerability was so dangerous; but that is often not the case.  That's where courage comes in.  If we really want whole and meaningful connections with those around us, we have to have the courage to present ourselves honestly, despite how vulnerable that makes us feel.  

Fitting in is a hollow substitute for really belonging.  I know from experience.  Still, going for the real deal can be difficult and scary.  Especially, when we have little experience with it and have such an intrinsic fear of rejection.  It is vulnerable to be first to say, "I love you."  One of my favorite literary characters, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, spends important effort teaching his subordinates to be vulnerable.  He teaches them four things they must always be willing and prepared to say:  I don't know.  I was wrong.  I am sorry.  I need help.  All expressions of vulnerability.  Can you see how they might assist us in making connections with others?  Can you see how their opposites might push others away?  

Part of the fear comes from failing to distinguish between guilt and shame.  For purposes of this discussion:  Guilt means:  I did something bad.  Shame means:  I am bad.  Too often our culture is shame based, both at home and in our institutions.  Shame is destructive.  Guilt is constructive.  If I am shame based, if I see myself as bad, instead of a worthwhile person who's done something bad, I am not likely to be willing to vulnerably present myself in an authentic way.  However, if I feel like I am intrinsically good and have the courage to admit my failings, I am much more likely to improve and to have the help of others in doing it.

Here's a wonderful quote from the book:
" an uncertain world, we often feel desperate for absolutes.  It's the human response to fear.  When religious leaders leverage our fear and need for more certainty by extracting vulnerability from spirituality and turning faith into "compliance and consequences," rather than teaching and modeling how to wrestle with the unknown and how to embrace mystery, the entire concept of faith is bankrupt on its own terns.  Faith minus vulnerability equals politics, or worse, extremism,  Spiritual connection and engagement is not built on compliance, it's the product of love, belonging and vulnerability."
That is so true!  I have even thought of changing one of the Primary songs since reading this book.  Perhaps a more accurate lyric would be:  I try to fit in to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  It currently says, "I belong.."  Brene' Brown has made it plain that belonging is far more than membership.  One of my daughters, who no longer attends church once told me that if she was treated at church the way she is treated at home, she'd still be attending.  In other words, she's not currently prepared to fit in, but she'd like to feel like she belongs.  Clearly, her church experience, which included ostracism, was shame based.  "You don't belong here."  This has been troubling to me for a long time.  Ostracism is a false and political consequence.  She, like each of us, has been guilty of sin (which always has it's own consequences) but being rejected or pushed away for it is not an appropriate one of them.  (See Elder Dallin H. Oaks' talk, General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, October 2012.)  Even though, she may be a cultural victim of less than perfect, yet worthwhile, Latter-day Saints, she remains responsible for the solution.

Well did Jesus admonish us to be "circumcised of heart."  I think by that He meant to be clean, sensitive and vulnerable. Think about it.  Too often, I have been trying to fit in with Him too.  Telling Him what I thought he wanted to hear, instead of vulnerably, honestly presenting myself before Him, just as I am.  I cannot grow from where I ought to be.  Only from where I actually am. He has made it plain that I have value with Him, that I belong and that if I will let Him help me, He will.  To Him I must also be willing to say:  I don't know.  I was wrong.  I am sorry.  I need help.

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