When I think of an image of “strength” what comes to mind is a mountain. And if I want to get a sense of “strength in numbers” I conjure up a vision of a mountain range, like my beloved White Mountains: granite, rugged, reaching up into the blue sky with peaks that can pierce the clouds that drift by. When I stand in this place I can feel how small I am in comparison. And I am in awe of the power that surrounds me.
And yet, even for all the strength and brawn and beauty and majesty that these mountains display, they too can crumble. I mean, c’mon: the Old Man of the Mountain, a landmark for New Hampshire, lost his face! Even the strongest have some vulnerable spots.
But is vulnerability really a sign of weakness?
Too often I’ve found that those who admit to not having all the answers are criticized and belittled, but people who spout off half-baked answers and ideas are somehow “brilliant”. It happens in politics all the time. If one of our politicians were to actually admit that they don’t know what’s coming around the corner in the economy, the war, the (fill-in-the-blank), we’d vilify them, and call them “weak”. We feel better if they lie to us, and feed us with manure so we mushrooms can continue to grow in the damp, dark places that we live in.
As a reporter, I know that when I finally gave in to the “I don’t know”, I felt liberated. Before, I was carrying this weight around of having to be “in the know” and “know everything”. And if I didn’t know an answer, I’d make one up based upon absolutely nothing in particular except that need to save face in the moment. I probably would have been better off like the Old Man of the Mountain if I'd allowed my face to fall down and given in to the “I don’t know”!
I’ve been having a lot of experience lately of living in a place of vulnerability. The definition in Webster’s dictionary says that to be vulnerable means one is “susceptible to being wounded, assaulted or conquered”. It can also mean that one is “incapable of resisting evil”. That’s pretty harsh language. And it’s a true definition.
But in my whacky world, I see being vulnerable as a giving way to realizing that I am not Queen of the Universe. And by sitting with that notion that I’m not in charge, I don’t know everything, I am dust and to dust I shall return, again I feel a sense of freedom from the bondage of having to be “in the know”. Life can still contain mysteries and surprises. And I have the liberty of life as a learner. So being vulnerable, to me, can lead to strength anew. I don’t feel wounded in a way that is fatal, or conquered in a way that crushes me under an iron fist of judgment. It’s the same notion I have expressed about tears as not necessarily being a sign of “weakness” in a person. It’s a sign of emotion, one that washes away our sorrows or waters our joys depending on why someone is crying. I find it’s the people who don’t cry or who don’t allow themselves to be vulnerable who are the weak ones. How can you ever know you are strong if you don’t know the flip side of that perceived strength?
There is value in vulnerability. It reminds us that we are human.