Researcher-storyteller Brene Brown once gave a TED talk entitled “The Power of Vulnerability.” I highly suggest you check it out, because it definitely changed my life.
There were a lot of ideas thrown around, but foremost among them was the idea that we can’t be genuine unless we’re vulnerable. In her words, we can’t “selectively numb.” We can’t shut off pain, shame and rejection without hurting our ability to experience joy, pride and acceptance. This twenty-minute talk changed my life in a radical way: It inspired me to counsel at the Bridge, speak for SPoM panels and be more open in my life so others could be more open to me.
I broach this subject for an obvious reason: It’s considered not manly to open up. A lack of emotional intelligence is an oft-cited ill on our campus, but I think it applies to men in particular because men have fewer outlets, resources and personal tools to grapple with emotionally charged issues. It is unnecessary to go into the details of why this culture of silence exists; we all know that for men, more so than women, it’s difficult to admit to experiencing heartbreak or sorrow or pain. There’s little room in male culture for vulnerability or, heaven forbid, sensitivity.
I recently had a guy open up to me about some serious issues he’s been dealing with, only to shut down halfway through the conversation and apologize by saying, “Sorry, I don’t usually get this whiny and vulnerable.”
Sure, there are problems that, when expressed, should be considered whining. Men also don’t whine about trivial affairs. But the difference between bitching about the little things and confronting serious emotional situations is pretty obvious. Real men do the latter and avoid the former. Real men allow themselves to be vulnerable from time to time.
So what can we do to break this cycle? Well, it’s important to recognize that we all suffer. Some of us suffer materially, some emotionally; some are made to suffer by others, and some self-inflict. We could argue there are varying degrees of suffering, but that misses the point; different events impact people differently, and what is an inconvenience for one person may be suffering for another.
Once we recognize that we all have demons, we can begin to be more open about what we’re going through, if only because it’d be less embarrassing. I think a lot of guys have an “oh shit” moment after they open up, because they’re afraid that no one else has that type of problem, that the listener is judging them or that they might come off as “weak.” But we’re all weak, and recognizing that is a first step towards becoming more vulnerable.
Finally, communication and reciprocation are key. Men who communicate what they experience, including the moments of vulnerability, are more emotionally intelligent, more attuned to the needs of others and ultimately more comfortable with themselves.
I would encourage readers to become more vulnerable in their lives and to put more of their authentic selves out there. You’ll get some letdowns, but I’ve found the important people end up reciprocating. By being vulnerable and authentic with each other, we won’t have to try and numb the lows of our emotional lives, because we’ll have friends and networks of support.
Open up to Chris anytime; he’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.