The Power of Vulnerability in Dialogue

The word vulnerability is often used powerfully to refer to the powerless, to show inability of an individual or community to withstand a situation or an emotion. The word vulnerability to me seems resigned, where one kills the possibility of creation of a new alternative or experiencing a new emotion. It was an eye opener when I came across Brene Brown [1] speaking about the power of vulnerability; it gave me an opportunity to reflect further on how this power would be channelized through dialogue. We all have our good and bad sides, and we often enjoy expressing the good and hold back the bad because of guilt and shame, only because we know that make us vulnerable. When I am convinced that dialogue is about sharing authentically about one’s life, the question remains how far will I go to keep it authentic? Is it really important to make that relationship stronger to an extent when I am aware that I am vulnerable? Here is where my inspiration for this article lies, with the title “The Power of Vulnerability in Dialogue”.

Paulo Coelho in his novel ‘Eleven Minutes’ embarks the journey of Maria – a beautiful young Brazilian girl who is vulnerable in a relationship and is convinced after her breakup that true love is a myth and eventually drifts away from love and gives into prostitution developing fascination for sex. Convinced that love only brings suffering, she makes her state of vulnerability comfortable for herself by engaging in relationship with many on bed. We all are vulnerable in any relationship, mostly prone to physical or emotional vulnerability, sometimes with consent and sometimes without consent. I have referred the word ‘vulnerability’ in this article in a positive context, which creates a platform for one’s spiritual and emotional growth eventually gaining some insights into dialogue.

In my initial stages of exploring this world of dialogue I would fear my sharing, finding myself vulnerable especially with people who were strangers, the emotion which Maria went through in Paulo’s novel, I can partially connect to such an experience. There was always this question, “Would sharing this part of my story help?”, every time I raised this question I either shared fully to feel complete and authentic, or I never engaged to that level of intense sharing. However, when I shared fully, I was complete, whole and perfect. Nothing really mattered as I knew already that I had made myself vulnerable. Here is where I would like to integrate Brene’s research findings, something that moved me at first go. Brene highlights that people who have fully embraced vulnerability have immense potential for love and a sense of belonging, they believe that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. They believe that being vulnerable is necessary, they were willing to say, “I love you” first, willingness to do something where there is no guarantee, ready to invest in a relationship that may or may not work. They did this only because they thought this was fundamental. I would add the word ‘unconditional love’, which gave me immense power to dialogue and launch a venture that would awaken people to the power of dialogue. Brene in her research found that people who embraced vulnerability have a sense of courage. Courage comes from the Latin word, ‘cor’ meaning ‘heart’ and so courage was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart, knowing that one is imperfect. Leonard Swidler [2], mentions about ‘Dialogue of heart’, in the Buddhist philosophy heart matters. Thus, heart becomes the source of dialogue where vulnerability thrives. Then why we lack expression in dialogue after having been through a roller coaster of emotions. Dr. Brene writes, ‘We live in a vulnerable world and one of the ways we deal with it is, we numb vulnerability’. In other words we numb our emotions and then someday we search for meaning and purpose in life landing up in the same cycle of numbed emotions, where there is absolutely no growth and thus, our dialogues fail. It is very essential for one to find their context right for dialogue. One cannot effectively initiate a dialogue or participate in a dialogue, when the context for that dialogue is not clear. It is also essential for them to be at a same wave length in the process of dialoguing.

Every dialogue has its roots in human emotions and Brene has truly inspired me to connect to these emotions that makes us vulnerable, yet make us beautiful. An emotion is like a river, you cannot block it and when you do, the water is stagnated. Being vulnerable supports the authenticity of our dialogue and also encourages the other person to powerfully enroll in the conversation. Identifying our flaws in expression and authenticity, we can put forward any emotion crystal clear across the heart of the other, without any expectations. Dialogue is not about strategizing; it is about being who you are and taking a stand in what you believe. It is only when you have completely embraced your vulnerability, you will fully share the vulnerable zone of others, entrusting your heart to work towards a strong relationship. And I know when I do this, I will have immense power to dialogue, only because I have experienced the power of vulnerability and this in return makes my dialogues powerful.

[1] Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past twelve years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Her ideas on vulnerability are taken from her TED x Houston talk in December 2010.

[2] Leonard Swidler is a professor of Interreligious Dialogue at Temple University, Philadelphia

Marina D'Costa

Marina D'Costa

Marina D'Costa has done her MA in Anthropology from University of Pune and is currently working in the area of Social and Financial Inclusion in Mumbai. She is associated with youth movements nationally and internationally making contributions in the area of youth formation and human rights.

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