Allegedly, when Benjamin Franklin moved into a new house, the first thing he did was ask his neighbors a favor. Why did he do this? Well, I think old Benny baby understood how well vulnerability works at building trust, intimacy, and healthy human relations.
In his autobiography, he wrote, “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged.” This has been studied repeatedly by social psychologists and is known as the “Benjamin Franklin Effect.”
Not only is reaching out to another human being for help a prominent feature of positive mental health, but it is also an act of vulnerability, which Brené Brown proposes as “our most accurate measure of courage.” In her book Daring Greatly, she describes how people perceive vulnerability in others as courage but vulnerability in themselves as weakness.
Funny how that works.
Meaningful Human Connection
You have relationships with thousands of people – friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, even with the cashiers at your grocery store. Every human interaction creates a relationship of sorts. Many superficial (social media acquaintances) and some closer (people you regularly see in real life). But the most satisfying and meaningful relationships you have are most likely with those you are mutually vulnerable with (because vulnerability works).
Pia Mellody defines intimacy as “The experience of knowing—and being known by—another person.” Allowing someone to truly know you takes tremendous courage and vulnerability. Everyone craves love and connection. At the same time, so many people suffer from imposter syndrome, low self-esteem, self-doubt, and fear of rejection.
The result is that we often present caricatures of ourselves to the world. We send a representative out there on our behalf – a cardboard cutout of our best selfie. And people respond by playing the same game of emotional go-fish.
But when someone shares their authentic human selves, they invite us to let our soul out of its cage for a playdate. And it feels like actually living. This is why we adore musicians, poets, and artists who bear it all and why people love movies and shows that permit emotional voyeurism and vicarious vulnerability (see Dopamine Dumpster Diving).
Vulnerability works, but no one wants to be the first to do it.
Why We Must
In 12 Rules For Life, Jordan Peterson wrote, “If your life is not what it could be, try telling the truth.” This line may poke you in the chest with a boney finger and call your authenticity to the witness stand. In that same brutal chapter, he writes, “If you will not reveal yourself to others, you cannot reveal yourself to yourself.” He’s talking about vulnerability, ya’ll. And how a lack of it is utterly corrosive to your very existence.
You gotta risk it for the biscuit. Dan Harris said, “The price of security is insecurity” (10% Happier). It’s completely paradoxical, but in order to be loved, we must be willing to share the things we fear are most unlovable about ourselves. Even Jesus said you gotta “become as little children to enter the kingdom of heaven.” He wasn’t talking about going to Disneyland – he was talking about innocence and vulnerability, for Christ’s sake! (see what I did there?)
Most people get old and decrepit and learn vulnerability under duress of impending death, so you’re definitely gonna learn it sooner or later. But I strongly recommend trying it sooner. My experience is that life is infinitely more enjoyable when you are honest with yourself and others about who the fuck you actually are.
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