The Courage to Live

Last week I had the good fortune to hear writer and speaker, Brené Brown, a professor at the University of Houston, and the bestselling author of Daring Greatly, speak at the NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) Conference.

Brené Brown has spent the last 16 years figuring out what keeps us from living—despite our best efforts—the kind of wholehearted, fully-involved existences that we’re trying to lead.  She specifically studies vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame.

At her talk last week, Brené Brown focused on courage. She insightfully shared that the foundation of courage is vulnerability, and at the root of vulnerability is uncertainty.

To be vulnerable is to be open to uncertainty; to not know or be able to control an outcome, but to engage and allow ourselves to experience pain and disappointment in order to be able to experience love, connection and success.  They cannot exist without each other.  How can you know the love of another person if one person is not willing to say “I love you” first, not knowing what the response will be? That is to be vulnerable. This is to have courage! How many things go left unsaid because we are afraid to be vulnerable?

Brené Brown went on to explain that there are two ways to deal with the vulnerability that accompanies courage – to acknowledge that there aren’t always answers; and to offer those who are feeling vulnerable camaraderie; to go through a vulnerable moment with them or find ways to ease it with some certainty.

Her research and books are filled with great wisdom and guidance for parents, teachers, leaders, and anyone who wants to feel alive – pain, glory, love and all.

Brené Brown beautifully expressed that the “birthplace” of loving, belonging and joy is vulnerability. She described joy as the most vulnerable of human emotions, and asked us to think about how we tend to react in moments of joy. Usually the brain will take joyful moments and shroud them with fear.  For example, your child is driving off to the senior prom and what crosses your mind is that she will die in a car accident.  We all have had these types of experiences. We take a moment of joy and prepare ourselves for some impending disaster that exists only in our minds.

However, Brené Brown provides us with an alternate way to approach and live life, to see our blessings amidst the uncertainties in life, and to create an alternative construct to the pervasive culture of fear and scarcity and the negative behaviors they promote.  In those moments of joy, instead of going to a dark place, focus on gratitude, she said. Be thankful for that moment your child is about to experience. Be intentional on focusing on gratitude and not fear. I find her work affirming of Jewish values and the Jewish view of life and living.

This mindset is important; it helps us to acknowledge the privilege that most of us experience in life, and it was with the difference between privilege and entitlement that Brown ended her talk. Privilege is unearned access or attainment. Those who understand their privilege and express gratitude for it tend to feel whole. The gratitude is grounding. Entitlement is an expectation to that access or attainment. Entitled adults and entitled children most often feel zero gratitude for anything they have and end up feeling a sense of scarcity – that it will end or be lost. There is no appreciation or gratitude, only a sense of anxiety and fear.

Just as we choose courage and vulnerability to live fully, and to experience joy with gratitude and not fear, let us teach our children the same, and let us always be wary of entitlement and its destructive forces.

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