Vulnerability is strength. It isn’t weak to express your emotions. Doing so lets other people relate to you and fosters connection. If I am angry that you drank my last beer when you came over for dinner, I should express it, but in a way that also acknowledges my own mistakes so that you don’t become defensive and we build a connection. I should say something like, “When you drank my last beer it hurt my feelings because I really wanted that beer. I know sometimes I have drank the last beer when you have wanted it. We have clearly hurt each other. Maybe next time you could bring over your own damn beer.”
Empathy is important. Being able to relate to why people are feeling the way they are builds human connections. For example, if you say you are upset Philly lost, I should reflect on that, respond with a thoughtful grunt of agreement, and then build on our growing connection by noting that you haven’t stopped by to mow the lawn in over a month. This would allow us to build a connection based on a mutual feeling: Philly’s loss sucks, and I have followed that with something else we, and everyone else with sense, can agree on: you are lazy. Which is okay because that is who you are and as Brené says, “Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together” and obviously we are all together in agreeing that the lawn needs to be mowed.
We all have deep shame and it inhibits us from real human connections. For example, I am deeply ashamed about my failings as a father. I let you down by not pushing you harder when you were struggling at things. When you cried to me because you didn’t make that catch in little league, I should’ve hugged you and then made you practice extra hours instead of just letting you keep failing. I am ashamed that I didn’t support you more so you would stop embarrassing me in front of the other dads at your games. By expressing my shame to you, this would’ve made it easier for you to express your shame to me about how sucking so much at baseball must have made you feel.
It takes courage to open yourself up to other people. When I refuse to discuss politics with you at family dinners because you hate Trump, I am closing myself off to you. Instead, I should not give up on trying to be more open. If I were more willing to be expressive and courageous, then you would see my viewpoint and agree that Donald Trump is an amazing President, and we would grow much closer. By not arguing with you, I have failed you. Like Brené says, “If you are not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.” Basically, I should let you get your ass kicked more by facts so that I could be more interested in your feedback about how you are wrong.
But floodlighting people with information is not developing real intimacy. So I should not tell you everything great that Trump is probably doing behind the scenes or you would obviously become overwhelmed. Instead, I should follow his example and let his 3D chess strategy reveal itself really, really slowly. So slowly it’s nearly impossible to see how successful he is because that’s how much he isn’t floodlighting America with all of his wins.
On that note, I also shouldn’t floodlight you when you fail to see my side. For example, if you say you understand my point of view, but that you still can’t support Trump because you think he is a racist, I should hold back on listing all the things that show Trump is obviously not a racist because there are so many I would be floodlighting you with information if I tried to say them all to you at one time. So instead, I shouldn’t tell you any things that prove Trump isn’t a racist to avoid shoving too much truth in your face at once, as that would just hinder us developing intimacy over our newly shared understanding that Trump is clearly in no way racist.
Everyone experiences pain. We are not meant to go through these things alone. So we should surround ourselves with people who let us be who we are. As Brené says, “What’s the greater risk? Letting go of what people think, or letting go of how I feel, what I believe, and who I am?” In order for us to grow closer and foster real intimacy, I should let go of what you think, and stand by how I feel about you drinking my beer, being lazy, and hating Trump. Because ultimately, who I am is your father, and I think we can both agree that by watching Brené Brown on Netflix, I have dared greatly to be a good one.