I am reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. I like the book and the way she presents her extensive research findings. A book about shaming and vulnerability is always cause for self reflection which is and of itself a risk, a vulnerable act but I did it anyway. Brene’s message is delivered in a wonderfully vulnerable way. She tells her stories. She opens up to the reader explaining in detail with examples from her own life how shame works and why being shame resilient is important for everyone. I highly recommend it.

I was especially taken by the chapter on the differences between Male and Female experiences of shame. Like her, I believed that we had moved beyond pink for girls and blue for boys but the truth is we haven’t. A story from our visit to the Vatican yesterday came to mind. Our wonderful guide Francesca, told of one of the first women painters to actually use her name on her works of art in the Baroque period. The story goes that she was the daughter of a famous painter and one day he left an unfinished painting in his studio. When he returned it was completed … by his daughter. He decided to send her to get some formal training with another famous painter of the time. The teacher raped the girl and when she told her father they brought charges against the teacher. Although he was a famous painter, he was found guilty which was a rare event under such circumstances and sent to jail … but not for rape. He was convicted of reducing the father’s wealth, of taking something of value from him. It was the reduction in financial worth of a girl who had been raped that sent him to jail, not the crime of raping another human being.

Girls believe that they are still worth more if they are thin and nice and subdued. Men believe that they are worth more if they are big and strong and successful. Shame is about worth and worthiness and it is sad for me to think that we are still trapped after all the “progress” our society appears to have made. Brene talks about a web of shame for women. We get caught in the opinions of others. She talks about a box of shame for men. They are caged by shame.

I like her antidote … vulnerability. She suggests that if we can all be vulnerable with people we trust, people who show us empathy so we know we are not alone we can become shame resilient. We can break out of the box and free ourselves from the web. The tricky part is that vulnerability requires trust and trust requires vulnerability. The question is who will risk first to begin the trust building.

In mediations I have done I have watched this dance of vulnerability and trust. I know from my own experience that voluntary vulnerability is critical in high conflict situations and I can see how Brene is suggesting that it is important in any and all relationships. Voluntary vulnerability begins the cycle of connection and moves us to the green zone in conversation. It is scary sometimes and if we are in our shame boxes or webs it can appear to be even more of a risk.

I have coached many people to just try explaining how they feel, how what has happened as impacted them will move them to a different way of relating. When they do, they find out that people appreciate a gentle, honest, open, specific talk. They learn that being voluntarily vulnerable creates a space for the other person to share their own vulnerability. The conversation opens up and everyone ends up with a deeper understanding of the situation at hand.

Brene Brown and I agree that more people need to learn about this and begin to practice being courageous. She talks about Daring Greatly, having the courage to move toward trust through vulnerability. I would add that being curious is also important. Curiousity, I think leads to vulnerability and away from blame and shame. Curiousity takes us away from assumptions which are, I think a path to judgement that needs to be avoided. Asking yourself or someone else about the motive behind an event or action is often more forgiving. It allows us to separate the deed from the person, what they did from who they are. It is a way to remove judgement from our responses and create a green zone of connection.

Finding ways to connect us to each other so we can clearly understand our self worth is what it is all about. Brene uses a quote “You are not a bad person. You are a good person who bad things have happened to.” If we can start from there we can become curious about a persons past rather than judge them as a bad person and we can begin to see ourselves in that quote. We are all good people doing the best we can with what we know.

Be courageous. You are worth it. Be curious. So are they.