Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Vayechi 74 – The power of Vulnerability

Brene Brown  has exposed the world to power of vulnerability and how vulnerability can make our lives better. Her TED talks on 'the power of vulnerability and listening to shame ' have had more than 15 million views.  Embracing vulnerability is also what characterizes great leaders and entrepreneurs, and what earned Judah – Yehuda, Jacob's son the honor of being the king and leader of the Jewish people. Judah admits and confesses that he is the father of the child, his daughter-in-law, Tamar is carrying. This public admission exposed his vulnerability and subjected him to the jibes of the populace. He could have justified not admitting his sin and  rationalize, that  the confession of such a sin might constitute a  חילול ה, a desecration of God's  Name. On the contrary, an awareness of one's shortcommings is a sign of greatness. Admission of guilt is a glorification of God's  Name, for we realize the limitations of man. Yehuda could have  protected his dignity and find another way of saving Tamar's life  by pretending to pardon Tamar .Instead he proclaimed – she is right , the signet ,the wrap and staff are from me , she is more righteous from me .Because Yehuda was able to judge himself and admit his mistakes he was given the role of king who would  be the judge of his people. In order to judge the people with 'truth, justice and peace ' one needs to appreciate the vulnerability of others.   It was the failure to expose vulnerability that caused Saul the king, to lose his crown to David. Instead of accepting the rebuke of the prophet Samuel for keeping alive the sheep, the women and Agag the king, Saul tried to justify his actions and not admit his sin.  King David admitted his wrong doing with Bat Sheva and   embraced his vulnerability. His kingship remained intact despite his sin. Rabbi David Lapin, the author of   Lead by Greatness   lists vulnerability as one of character traits that define great leaders. Vulnerability is the courage to admit and confront their own vulnerability. The owner of the largest advertising agency wholly owned by a woman in the USA, Gay Gaddis said that when you shut down vulnerability, you shut down opportunity. Entrepreneurship is all about vulnerability. The source of Yehuda's embracing his vulnerability was the name his mother gave him. Leah gave thanks to G-d for enabling her to be the mother of one- third of Jacob's 12 sons .She had been granted more than her rightful share. The name Yehuda comes from the root ' o'deh' which means – I give thanks. It also means –I admit or confess. So Rabbi Lapin explains that when we are grateful and give thanks we are actually admitting and confessing we did not deserve it or we were not entitled to the goodness. Not only apologizing exposes our vulnerability, but also being grateful and offering thanks.
What gets in our way from embracing vulnerability?  We wrongly consider it as a sign of weakness. We live in our' culture of scarcity' in that people feel that they ' are not enough' –never perfect enough, never successful enough, never thin enough or never extraordinary enough. Women are supposed to ' Do it all, do it all perfectly and' never ' let them see you struggle'. For men- do not be perceived as weak. We live in a world where 2 questions are asked – what is there to fear and who is to blame. So to avoid or minimize the pain of blame, judgment and shame we strive for perfection. We find exposing our vulnerability excruciating because of the feelings of shame that come with it and then we don't allow ourselves to be seen, really seen. We also try to 'numb vulnerability' and since you can't selectively numb an emotion, you end up numbing emotions such as joy, gratitude and happiness and end up feeling even more vulnerable.

So why is fully embracing vulnerability important? Feeling connected and having a sense of belonging is crucial for giving our lives meaning and purpose. And it is difficult to connect with 'perfect people '. They don't come across as authentic   and most of us don't trust 'perfect'. Vulnerability is the most accurate measurement of courage – to be vulnerable, to let ourselves be seen, and to be honest. It forces us to expose ourselves to situations filled with uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. The inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limits the fullness of important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy and creativity. Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change. To create is to make something that has never existed before. It sets one up for failure, failing many times until one succeeds. There is nothing more vulnerable than that. Adaptability to change is all about vulnerability. The verse – Proverbs 24:16 for 7 times will fall the saint and then come. Failure is not in the falling, but not getting up. One only succeeds in Torah unless one experiences failure –'ain adam o'meid ul divrei Torah ud shenichshal te'chila.'

The people who embrace vulnerability believe that they are worthy of love and belonging and therefore have a strong sense of love and belonging. They are authentic, whole hearted people, living from a deep sense of worthiness, a sense of courage and self - compassion. This enables them to own their mistakes, take risks and not only expose their vulnerability, but embrace vulnerability. They experience guilt when they mess up, but not shame. This all, gives them the ability to connect with people. The people who struggle with vulnerability are always wondering if they are good enough, worthy of connection, belonging and love. Underlying their vulnerability is 'shame ', a fear of disconnection.  Shame focuses on the ' self'. How could I- with a capital I – do that !!!.  I am a mistake, I am bad. The whole-hearted person asks 'How can I do THAT ?, I did something bad. I am sorry, I made a mistake.

It is not easy owning one's mistakes. We become defensive and look to blame someone else. Your husband comes home later than usual from his night soccer game and you wait for him. In the morning you are tired and have a second cup of coffee, one more than usual. You drop the cup and now there is a big mess on the floor. You phone your dh- dear husband and give him hell for coming home later than usual. He is to blame for you dropping your cup of coffee. If he had come home earlier, you would not have had a second cup. Grandparents are baby- sitting their   grandchildren. The granddad is near the car- park with the kids waiting for the grandma who is being delayed, to come. A toddler starts to run off, the granddad runs after her, so the toddler begins to run faster and then falls flat on her face. The granddad blames the grandmother. If she would have hurried up, the kid would not have fallen.

The way we respond to somebody who is giving us some criticism of negative feedback can either add negative energy or calm things done and facilitate a constructive discussion. A couple has had coffee together and then separate, the man back to his business and the women to a doctor's appointment. She gets to the family car and does not find the car keys. Her husband had been using the car. The phones her husband and rebukes him for not giving her the car keys. The husband can embrace his vulnerability and say – I made a mistake, I will bring you the keys as soon as I can or he can be defensiveness and blame the wife – why did you not ask for the car keys! A wife is sitting with his wife and venting- she has just had it, she can't do it all anymore, the husband can be there for her and just listen or he can be defensive and say ' I unloaded the dish washer.'

We can help our spouses; children and students embrace vulnerability by modeling vulnerability, being authentic, showing empathy and not being judgmental.
Brené Brown was inspired to write a book called Daring Greatly, a phrase from Theodore Roosevelt's 1910  speech ' Citizen in the Arena ' sometimes referred to as' The Man in the Arena' I conclude with the passage which made the speech famous.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

1 comment:

  1. Rabbi Mannis Freidman told a story of how a psychologist once called him with questions about Judaism. One of the things Rabbi Friedman told him is that it 'hurts G-d' (so to speak) when we don't live according to the laws he gives us. The psychologist said emphatically, "How can G-d be all powerful if he is so vulnerable?" The Rabbi replied, "Are you saying vulnerability is a weakness." The psychologist had to admit it's not, and became much more interested in Torah as a result.