Blogging has been interesting. A few weeks ago, I was speaking to a friend of mine about some of the things that I experienced as a child. The conversation touched on poverty and how that affected me, tapped into the strained relationship I have with my mother, not being popular with girls in school and so on. During the conversation she praised me for “being vulnerable” which I thought nothing of honestly. I didn’t feel vulnerable in that moment at all, I wasn’t actually vulnerable in that moment as I understood it, but I said “ahh thanks” and kept it moving. It stuck with me though, I thought I may be tripping, then I thought I wasn’t. I landed on I’m not, and you’re here for the ride now.
Maybe I’m over thinking
The term ‘Vulnerable’ has undergone a complete rebranding as the focus on mental health has increased in society. It used to mean ‘susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm’. Now it is used to mean emotionally brave and courageous. I can’t pinpoint when the word was upgraded, but if there is power in words, this is one I think we should examine, all things considered. Maybe I’m over thinking it.
When I think of someone being vulnerable, I think of defenseless kids, the mentally and physically handicapped, old people and victimized folks in general that have no idea what’s about to happen to them. However, everywhere I turn I see people claiming that being vulnerable is some kind of great attribute instead of a condition of happenstance where calamity meets a person incapable of dealing with it. Sure when you put yourself out there, you never know what will come as a result. Under this way of thinking, I felt like I was probably tripping. It kept bugging me though so I kept thinking.
Why does it matter to me
I find value in nuance I guess. I think it’s important to not identify with something that doesn’t fit the sentiment you are trying to convey. So, my friend was proud of me for being emotionally OK to talk about difficult subjects that are sensitive in nature. To modern folks, that’s being vulnerable but I consider this brave or courageous. Not as a means of patting my own back, but based on the definitions of these words.
Courage is the ability to do something that frightens you.
Brave is being ready to face and endure danger or pain.
Maybe I’m not trippin
There’s a big difference between these two definitions and vulnerable, which again is “susceptible to physical or emotional attack”. To me, there’s a certain level of surprise required to be vulnerable. It’s the difference between being held up at gun point and fighting the attacker that is holding you up. Being vulnerable is not intentional by definition. It implies that you are neither ready nor capable to deal with the situation, being brave means you understand the situation and you are taking it head on. The reason the words are important is because there are millions of people labeling themselves vulnerable, when there is a more fitting term.
I don’t mean the guys putting out the humble brag with women regarding their ability to be vulnerable. In this usage it means having a sensitive side, but branding changes over time and saying “vulnerable” is hot right now. I don’t knock the game at all, but what they are actually saying is “I’m secure in what I feel and believe”. They aren’t necessarily seeking an emotional attack, and if they are, that is them being courageous. For example, if the person you marry is sweet, quiet, doesn’t go out much, you probably aren’t mentally preparing for them to cheat on you. In this setting, you are vulnerable to that possibility. However, if the person you marry has never been faithful to anyone ever, and you know this, you know they love these streets, then you’re either brave or a swinger because you are accepting of this particular situation that would/could harm you emotionally if you weren’t prepared.
Power in words
We can pretend like words are sometimes just words, but they have a clear power to impact how you perceive your day. Imagine you’re walking down the street and a sweet looking 60 year old lady politely says “good morning, I don’t know what it is, but something about you is glowing, have a great day”. There’s a good chance you will take this as a compliment and keep on going. You’ll probably tell your coworkers and it’ll have you feeling pretty good. Let’s replace some of those words, but keep the same sweet lady, same polite voice. This time she says, “good morning, I don’t know what it is, but you look pretty f**king odd sugar, now have a great day”. I’d be willing to bet that you’d think about that all day too and you may tell your friends and coworkers how rude she was. That’s what I hear when I hear vulnerable as a compliment. It’s said in a positive way, but it doesn’t make me feel good.
So we have all of these people walking around identifying themselves as vulnerable when in reality they are courageous or brave. Flip side, you have actual vulnerable people that have not overcome their situation thinking the way to overcome is by spilling their guts. These people then realize they can’t deal with the scrutiny and are worse off as a result. Sharing details about ones personal life can be painful if they haven’t accepted and overcome the situation. When people are able to do that, call them brave, not vulnerable. It takes bravery and courage to deal with a painful situation, overcome it and then talk about it with folks. A vulnerability is what got them hurt in the first place.
At the crossroad of “maybe I’m tripping, maybe I’m not” I landed on I don’t believe I am tripping. My business partner mentioned the other day that it was cool that I could be vulnerable putting myself out there. Open to the critiques of whoever reads my thoughts. However, I’m in no danger and pretty much all of the ill that could come of it, I have mentally accepted and I’m fine with whatever comes. People can absolutely love or hate what I say and I’ll still feel cool. I actually expect both because these are simply my thoughts and ideas and even my best friends don’t agree 100% of the time.
The moment you are able to face the hurt, fear, anxiety, pressure etc. head on, you are no longer vulnerable. That’s when whatever it is no longer has power over you. You have effectively stripped all of the power from it and regained your ability to carry on regardless of outside opinion. There’s a better word for that state of being than vulnerable. No one else can define you, but you should not define yourself in such a way either.
That said, I take my cap off to those that have been through something, learned, grew, and as a result want to tell their story. Those people shed their vulnerability and took control of the pain that may have dominated their psyche at some point. It takes time and courage to do that. My heart goes out to the people that are truly vulnerable and feel pressured by society and new social norms to open up too soon. It takes time, but when you’re really ready to do it, call it what it is. These little words matter.