Brené Brown does research. In fact, she is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate School of Social Work, focusing her energies on vulnerability and shame. In 2010 she gave a TEDx Talk sharing some of her findings. The title of her talk was: “The Power of Vulnerability.” There is power in vulnerability? This is not something we hear in our culture. The talk went viral and it continues to be, along with several of her other talks, one of the most viewed TED Talks on the internet.
She has written a number of books and articles about her research, one of the more popular being Daring Greatly (2012), which just came out in paperback this year.
This year she published Rising Strong (2015). I was turned on to Brown by a friend who is a deep thinker with what I would call one of the bravest (and maybe the most discontent) spirits I know. I can totally see why he would be attracted to Brown’s way of seeing things. Her writing is brutally honest, self-reflective, and full of challenging and good things.
In Rising Strong Brown writes about the three stage process of rising from the opportunities in our failures (failure, in Brown’s thinking, is not bad—it is in, fact, in failing when we can learn and grow the most):
- The Reckoning — the realization that something does not feel good or right.
- The Rumbling — facing the reckoning and, in Brown’s words, choosing to be curious about our feelings (Why do I feel this way? Where is this coming from?) and taking ownership of them.
- The Revolution — I haven’t gotten to this part (take that however you want).
It’s the Rumbling stage that catches my attention the most right now (maybe because that’s where I am). She likens this stage to Act 2 of a three act play, when the “struggle” becomes apparent and is faced by the protagonist(s)—it’s the most difficult part of the play to write and watch. As a Christian, I see this as the time between Palm Sunday and Easter: “Good” Friday when Jesus is hung on the cross and “Holy Saturday” when everything is in turmoil. Act 2, the time between, is full of ambiguity, anxiety, fear, and even pain. We might be angry, frustrated, or wanting desperately to run and hide. The problem is, you can’t get to Easter and fully experience Easter until you’ve fully engaged Good Friday and Holy Saturday.
Brown invites us (maybe even challenges us) to get curious about our feelings in this uncomfortable time between realizing there’s a problem and actually figuring out how to deal with the problem:
- Why am I so angry?
- Why am I so sad or frustrated?
- What’s behind it?
- Is this really about me and not what I’m angry, sad or frustrated at?
She says that “curiosity is an act of vulnerability and courage. … We need to be brave enough to want to know more.”1 It’s brave, according to Brown, because it is not easy to be curious about our feelings. We’re taught to avoid feelings and that feelings are weak. It’s easier to get mad and just blame someone else. But it is through this struggle, Brown suggests, that we have the opportunity to grow and choose a different narrative for our lives than the raw, unchecked, and often scattered way our feelings come out when we haven’t done the hard work to reckon and rumble with them.
This is the kicker quote:
Curiosity is a shit-starter. But that’s okay. Sometimes we have to rumble with a story to find truth.2
So, I think, this is me saying:
Please pardon the dust of my life. I’m getting curious about some things going on inside me. I’m rumbling. It may be ugly and uncomfortable at times—it is for me too. But I’m doing this to be a healthier me for the both of us. I may ask you for help. I hope you’ll say yes so we can both get curious and discover something new.
I don’t know where this is going or how it will turn out. But, I’m trying to sit in the uncomfortableness and reckon with the ambiguity. Brené warns me that, like Jesus trying again and again to tell his disciples what is going to happen when they finally get to Jerusalem, things may get worse before they get better. Curiosity, after-all, is a shit starter.
1 Brené Brown, Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution (New York: Spiegal and Grau, 2015), p. 53 (emphasis added).
2 Ibid., p. 54.