I have been living, working, and raising my son in the United States for eleven years now, and I constantly run into the issue of self-protection. In other words, fear. I don’t think anyone feels safe in America, and I don’t think many feel safe to just be themselves, no matter what social media hype may be promoting on any given day.
In the book, Daring Greatly, author Brené Brown exposes America as a culture of scarcity, where we are all constantly reminded of what we lack. We are not thin enough, successful enough, powerful enough. We don’t have enough time, money, or resources to be where or who we would like to be. There is a feeling of being rootless and panicked, and Brown very aptly comments that living an ordinary life has become culturally devoid of meaning or support. We revere celebrities and the outrageously wealthy. Which comes to mean that the majority of all people are made to feel ashamed of who they are and what we may or may not have accomplished. Just being a kind human being or a compassionate parent are not enough.
While Americans seem to have high self-esteem, often to the point of arrogance, I sense that this image is merely a shell, a persona that shields the more tender, sensitive being that has to exist somewhere within the hull of each of us. There is much public discussion about the effects of social media on users, as well as the militarization of police and increasing violence throughout our societies. We worry about terrorism, about insufficient medical insurance coverage, about student loan debt. Our culture incessantly underscores how vulnerable we are socially, financially, morally, yet prevents us from openly expressing how we feel about our experiences.
The bottom line is that being openly vulnerable is absolutely necessary for meaningful connections to self and others. It is easily observed that the majority of Americans are very afraid of showing any vulnerability: in relationships, in the workplace, in public. Rightfully so, as we know we will be punished if we express our true feelings and thoughts most of the time. We engage in long-distance relationships or on-line relationships to avoid truly sincere exchanges of feeling. We live in constant fear of our inner selves and of one another. We are constantly judging and being judged and shamed. Does it have to be this way?
I can tell you that it does feel very lonely when one does have the courage to open up. I have personally experienced bullying in the workplace, shaming which has prevented me from being promoted or appreciated for the work I do. Putting my trust into others has caused many people to try and take advantage of me as a homeowner. It is easy to shut down and avoid others or to become paranoid.
Yet despite the suffering caused by a lifetime of self-protection and fear of others, the investment in the shell and in the collective projection of fear creates a reaction. People want to protect what they have been conditioned to believe. We don’t want to feel that we have wasted our lives on fear when we know we have only a short span on this earth. Only a few seem to know to live from the heart, not without fear, but stepping up and being brave in spite of hesitations, obstacles, and previous experience.
Although I am not a Christian, and I am living in a country where the majority of people ostensibly follow the Christian religion, it seems to me that few espouse the values that Jesus demonstrated in the short life he lived on this earth. I feel that Jesus was a man who had definitely developed his feminine side, and he knew how to value vulnerability in others. He was a strong man, yet he was not one to dominate or shame others. It is funny to me that the majority of western countries worship a man who is represented by a church which historically has despised the feminine and vulnerability…yet this man, Jesus, is a prime example of living whole-heartedly, became the core symbol of a paternalistic way of life. His life, simply as a man and not as a god, was a true example of balance of masculine and feminine energies. He sought to be compassionate, open, powerful through vulnerability. It is not by chance that he chose for his followers the downtrodden and those rejected by society.
People with low self-esteem may not necessarily be more open to love or change, but perhaps they have just a little bit less to protect than the wealthy and the powerful. Jesus was crucified by those who were fearful of his openness. Has anything really changed in our cultural values over the last two thousand years?
I believe it takes courage to live an authentic life. To pursue being and truth of self and heart rather than power and possessions. It takes courage to be vulnerable, and no matter what people constantly tell us – that vulnerability is a weakness – this is a lie. Vulnerability is at the heart of all life and being. Without it, we are mere shadows. Without it, there is no true empathy, community, love, or creativity.