This month, I read (and am still reading…a few pages to go!) Brené Brown’s Braving the Wilderness. And can I tell you something? I don’t even know where to begin…this book is chock-full of wisdom and life-altering truths!
If you're not familiar with Brown, she is an extraordinary researcher-storyteller who has emerged as a thought leader on living courageously in the 21st century. Just check out one of her TedTalks.
No…really. Do it now. I’ll wait…
Now, the book…I found myself in such perfect alignment with the tenets of this text that I kept nodding my head on almost every page. The subtitle alone: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone…gave me pause.
Woven into the tapestry of how I choose to live my life is the idea that if it’s not authentic, real, true, then it’s not quite living. Now, don’t get me wrong. I struggle to find my way sometimes…especially when I’m dealing with hurt, disappointment, anxiety (or any other intimate wildernesses). Still, my personal quest is focused on living true to who I am.
Brown is urging all of us to live this way. She uses her research to uncover the commonalities among those who choose to live out loud, to reveal to the world their true selves. And shares those familiar features here.
I see this book as a type of roadmap through the wild terrain of life. Brown calls upon us to combat what she refers to as “bunker” living, fueled by fear, and to make connections by employing the following four practices.
People are Hard to Hate Close Up. Move In.
Brown speaks of how polarized, both ideologically and politically, we have become and how this negatively affects our ability to have a connection with one another. With the loss of connection, which we are neuro-biologically wired to share, there is a rise in isolation and loneliness.
Don’t believe it? Just count how many depression medication commercials play in one sitting of your favorite program.
Along with the lonesome feelings, we have become vehement about our “right” positions. We view no value in an opposing opinion or stance. It is easy to dehumanize and demonize the person that you don’t agree with when they don’t spend Thanksgiving at your table.
Is there any wonder why we are witnessing a rise in aggression and violence?
It is time to “move in.” Have the hard conversations. Don’t remain silent or hide your views. Nor hide you. Be seen. Be heard. Also, be willing to listen and hear others. Create space for honest conversations.
Speak Truth to BS. Be Civil.
Brown draws on the research of a Princeton professor, Harry Frankfurt, who has (believe it or not) done extensive research on BS. Bullsh—ing, not a lie, is the real archenemy of truth, according to the research. It’s defined as the “wholesale dismissal of the truth.” It holds onto asinine arguments and demands that you take sides.
Life cannot be so easily sorted. I can support Black Lives Matter and care about the safety and well-being of police officers, as Brown describes. But BS would have us choose to hunker down in only one camp.
When confronted with BS, we are encouraged to rise above it and respond with truth, civilly. In a rapidly changing world, it is important for us to engage in discourse that is open and respectful. I believe we can operate in the tension of maintaining our beliefs while listening and respecting the views of others.
Hold Hands. With Strangers.
From a stadium, full of soccer fans to our collective hurt after Sandy Hook, Brown illustrates that being a part of something greater than ourselves and our experience is a spiritual necessity. We can share deep understandings across the lines that divide us.
This requires vulnerability.
Vulnerability is a dirty word for some. It is viewed as a weakness that should be avoided. But without it, we limit our ability to feel and connect. Remember, we are wired to have connection.
Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart.
This was the chapter that got the head nod and the tears. I could hear myself repeating over and over, “Yes! Yes!” The concept of having a 'strong back, soft front' comes from Buddhist teaching, Dr. Brown writes. But the concept is very familiar to me, a non-Buddhist.
We are so used to building our lives around a strength that is exemplified by a “front shielding a weak spine.” When push comes to shove, we are tempted to cave for the sake of being liked and accepted. Let’s face it. Belonging is a need…like food, water, and shelter. This need, however, can drive us to “perfect, please, prove, and pretend.” But these weaken our courage muscle.
The “wild heart” experience is the result of standing alone…the wilderness has a way of leaving marks on the heart. And gives birth to deeper intentionality in everyday living.
How does this all really work in real life?
The answer is BRAVING, an acronym Brown introduced in her earlier writings. Here, they are outlined as the modus operandi for these four practices.
We are to respect our own Boundaries and be clear with ourselves and others. Do what we say we’ll do, Reliability. Owning our mistakes, apologize, and seek reconciliation is central to Accountability. Keep the information or experiences of others confidential and in the Vault. Have Integrity – choose courage over comfort! (I have a t-shirt with this phrase.) Speak and listen from a place of Nonjudgment. And finally, be Generous when interpreting the intentions, words, and actions of others.
Life is challenging, messy, and unpredictable. But it is also full of growth, discovery, and joy. When we hide parts of our life journey (from ourselves and others) by emotionally compartmentalizing, we limit the ability to live outside the box.
And fear is the primary culprit; it manifests itself in hiding. Hence, the need to draw upon courage to live limitlessly in our work, with our friends, and in our homes. We can do this! Brave is beautiful!
Until next time…