Redefining Courage: In the Face of Vulnerability
"Vulnerability is not about fear and grief and disappointment, it is the birthplace of everything we're hungry for." -Brene Brown For many men, courage, or bravery is an important aspect to an understanding of their personal identity and gender expression. At the very least, most men strive to take pride in the fact that they are not weak, soft or a wuss. Stereotypically, men in popular culture are represented with stoicism, un-wavering confidence, independence and a projection of invulnerability. This type of "courage" and the avoidance of vulnerability, has most definitely led to a disconnect not only between men and their families, but also between men and themselves, especially in terms of their capacity for self-discovery and personal growth. In other words, connection and personal growth are created through the experience of vulnerability. Even according to the pioneer in our understanding of the human psyche, Sigmund Freud has said, "Out of your vulnerabilities, will come your strength." Accordingly, suppressing vulnerability and not allowing ourselves to be genuine in our experience, seems quite the opposite of courage. With this understanding, we can see that the stereotypical masculine man isn't courageous at all, but is instead existentially crippled, shame ridden and limited with a deep seeded fear of true self-expression and acceptance. To rebut this idea, we could argue that men get to be courageous because they just don't have vulnerabilities. And yes, its okay to scoff at this idea, because it simply is not true. In fact, vulnerability is to humanity, what wet is to water and regardless of gender, you absolutely cannot be human without a great deal of vulnerability. Why suppress the soul by denying its existence? We are emotional creatures, we have evolved to feel for very important reasons, largely because emotion offers us important information about what is happening in our environment. This allows for self-preservation, not only in the physical world, but also in regards to the importance of collaboration in our social reality. Accordingly, as emotional creatures, we all experience negative emotion and are therefore susceptible to vulnerability according to the very definition of the word. Especially for men, denying or suppressing the reality of our own vulnerability is exactly the dynamic that leads to an increase in substance abuse, suicidality and domestic violence. "You can't get to courage without walking through vulnerability."
-Brene Brown It seems that claiming courage without experiencing vulnerability, is like claiming you've won the war without fighting the battle. Rather than refusing or denying our experience of vulnerability, truly courageous men must openly embrace vulnerability. Now, I am certainly not saying that men should become bubbling and overly sensitive, with no capacity for emotion regulation or positive coping; of course there is something to be said about the resilience of the male spirit. But I am saying that authenticity in embracing vulnerabilities will foster personal wellness, connection and growth. As we open our hearts, we create the opportunity for others to truly show-up in our lives and it becomes easier for others to do the same. In this way, modelling courage through vulnerability paves the way for a generation of truth seekers. A courageous generation of conscious men, a generation without the displacement of vulnerability in the form of aggression, substance abuse and suicide. As I reflect on the male role models that I've had in my life, I realize a deeper respect for those that have taken ownership over their lives, in being courageous through embracing vulnerability. These were strong men, respectable men. Men who knew grief but loved anyway, men who knew fear but stood strong and men who valued independence but embraced relationship. With this, male or female, I challenge you to realize your courage, embrace vulnerability and in doing so, embrace personal growth, strength and true relationship. This is the new courage!