“Stories are data with a soul.”
A few years ago, six weeks into her research, Brené Brown hit pause to understand why her questions about connection elicited stories that revealed quite the opposite — heartbreak, exclusion, disconnection. In other words, she discovered shame. She says:
What underpinned this shame, this "I'm not good enough," — which, we all know that feeling: "I'm not blank enough. I'm not thin enough, rich enough, beautiful enough, smart enough, promoted enough." The thing that underpinned this was excruciating vulnerability. This idea of, in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.
Her work then became that of deconstructing shame. Six years and thousands of stories later, Brené Brown found that:
There was only one variable that separated the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging and the people who really struggle for it. And that was, the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they're worthy of love and belonging. That's it. They believe they're worthy.
What do people who feel worthy have in common? She found that:
What they had in common was a sense of courage. And I want to separate courage and bravery for you for a minute. Courage, the original definition of courage, when it first came into the English language — it's from the Latin word "cor," meaning "heart" — and the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. And so these folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others, because, as it turns out, we can't practice compassion with other people if we can't treat ourselves kindly. And the last was they had connection, and — this was the hard part — as a result of authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were, which you have to absolutely do that for connection.
Connection as a result of authenticity, of being willing to take the first step in relationships and invest in them. This realization led to a breakdown. She says:
I personally thought it was betrayal. I could not believe I had pledged allegiance to research, where our job — you know, the definition of research is to control and predict, to study phenomena for the explicit reason to control and predict. And now my mission to control and predict had turned up the answer that the way to live is with vulnerability and to stop controlling and predicting.
Reacting to her findings was a first step of a three-part process that led back to more research to understand “what they, the whole-hearted, what choices they were making, and what we are doing with vulnerability.” It turns out we numb it:
You can't numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then, we are miserable, and we are looking for purpose and meaning, and then we feel vulnerable, so then we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. And it becomes this dangerous cycle.
One of the things that I think we need to think about is why and how we numb. And it doesn't just have to be addiction. The other thing we do is we make everything that's uncertain certain. Religion has gone from a belief in faith and mystery to certainty. "I'm right, you're wrong. Shut up." That's it. Just certain. The more afraid we are, the more vulnerable we are, the more afraid we are. This is what politics looks like today. There's no discourse anymore. There's no conversation. There's just blame. You know how blame is described in the research? A way to discharge pain and discomfort. We perfect.
In turn that prevents shared understanding. Asking powerful questions, discussing issues, learning that good disagreement is central to progress and how to decide the trade offs to make help us become better problem solvers.
We pretend that what we do doesn't have an effect on people. We do that in our personal lives. We do that corporate — whether it's a bailout, an oil spill … a recall. We pretend like what we're doing doesn't have a huge impact on other people.
As organizations we don't learn about the importance of risk communications to empathize with our communities. As individuals we have a conversation problem, especially online — people don't converse, they comment; that's a big difference.
When we expand our perception to feeling okay with being ourselves, we then tap into a deep reservoir of potential. That's when we learn about our opportunity for growth. Brené Brown says:
Because when we work from a place, I believe, that says, "I'm enough" … then we stop screaming and start listening, we're kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we're kinder and gentler to ourselves.
Watch the video of the talk below.