Vulnerability is the best defense

Posted Apr 12, 2011


the beauty of vulnerability


Being defenseless is something we avoid at all costs. Individually, psychologically, physically, emotionally, even spiritually, we build defenses to protect ourselves, our families, our possessions, our countries, our beliefs. We've been building moats around the castle since we figured out how to build castles. But why? Why is it so important to protect everything? Protect it (us) from what?

Imagine someone taking something from your hand. You are holding on and they snatch it. Yikes. That feels bad. But what was in your hand? Was it important? Did it matter? Imagine someone taking that same thing, and as they reach for it, you let it go. How is that one?

Clearly, it makes sense to be able to protect some things. And just as clearly we tend to be so protective of just about everything that we are rarely able to experience our vulnerability. How could we? We're busy fighting off anything that might hurt us. But for all that, we get hurt anyway. What then? Bigger moat? More defenses? Thicker skin? Hide better? Feel less? Care less? Get them before they get you? Leave before you are left?

Imagine a world where we accepted being hurt as part of the process. We want to run. We know we'll fall. We want to love, we know we'll be hurt. What if everyone cried, like children do, when they were hurt or scared or sad.... What if we were okay with being vulnerable and could know ourselves in both our strength and our weakness? What would our world be like if we shared our woundedness, our pain, our vulnerability? Could we go to war if we wept at every death?

Adults who can claim their vulnerability and live with it, express it and connect to others through it are likely healthier and happier. We are so conditioned, as young children are not, to look good; do the right thing; be the way the world (whatever world we inhabit) wants us to be, that we build a false front. We walk around in our "best self" and we rarely let our deeper experiences show. That false front has been called by many names, but we all know it in ourselves and can often feel it/see it in others. It is our survival personality, our persona, our false positive. Put your best foot forward! Give it all you got! It is better to look good than to feel good! (or so the old spoof from Saturday Night Live says). And because we try so hard to look good, be good, feel good, we necessarily have to protect ourselves, from anything that might threaten.

But vulnerability is a gift. It is a way that we share, with all other humans, the fragile nature of existence, the sensitivity that is deeply human. A vulnerable child elicits a caring response from an adult. The truth is that a vulnerable adult, in a safe world, elicits that same caring from others. Vulnerability is the soft underbelly of who we all are. Defenseless, I need you. And you need me.