TEDxKC - Brené Brown - The Price of Invulnerability

Uploaded by TEDxTalks on 12.10.2010

[ Silence ]
[ Applause ]
>> So I'm going to start by walking you into a scene
in a movie and then I want y'all to tell me what happens next.
Okay, here's my black, Christmas eve, beautiful night,
light snowfall, young family of four in the car on the way
to grandma's house for dinner.
They're listening to the radio station,
the one that starts playing the Christmas music
like right at Halloween.
[laughter] Jingle Bells comes on.
The kids in the backseat goes crazy,
everyone breaks into song.
The camera pans in on the faces of the kids, the mom,
dad, what happens next?
Car crash, 60% of people say car crash, 60%.
Another 10% to 15% have equally fatalistic answers [laughter]
but more creative.
[laughter] I have the camera cuts to the oncologist
who is just looking at the bad news that he is going
to share the day after Christmas.
I have they get to grandmother's house, everyone is dead,
a serial killer is on the loose.
[laughter] And I had one dude who worked
in a shark attack, I did.
What's interesting to me about this
and it's an indictment a little bit of the media,
which I wouldn't so much care about except
that I'm a vulnerability researcher
and I've spent the last 10 years studying vulnerability
and I cannot tell you how many hundreds and hundreds of stories
that I've collected from people
who that is their response not just to media
but in their real lives.
How many parents I've interviewed who will say
and I'm looking at my children and they're sleeping and I'm
on this verge of bliss
and I picture something horrible happening.
Do you know this?
Yes. I get the promotion and I get to fly
up to headquarters you know to find out about my new job
and what's going to happen, plane crashes.
The fatalistic response is not universal.
We're not all like that.
But it is a symptom of an issue that is both universal
and I believe profoundly dangerous.
And that is we are losing our tolerance for vulnerability.
And in our culture we, what do we think is synonymous
with vulnerability, weakness.
Y'all are an excellent audience.
[laughter] It's almost as if I trained you.
It's perfect.
Weakness, and I'm going to talk
about how that's not the case tonight.
Vulnerability is absolutely at the core of fear and anxiety
and shame and very difficult emotions that we all experience
but vulnerability is also the birthplace of joy, of love,
of belonging, of creativity, of faith,
and so it becomes very problematic
when as a culture we lose our capacity to be vulnerable.
So this kind of fatalistic car crash is a symptom.
I refer to it as foreboding joy.
One of the symptoms that we're losing our capacity
for vulnerability is that joy actually becomes foreboding.
Something good happens or we're looking at someone we love
or we're thinking about something we care about
and then we become compelled to beat vulnerability to the punch.
Other symptoms, disappointment as a lifestyle,
it is much easier to live disappointment then it is
to feel disappointment and so this is the person in the
after school movie that I don't want to play your stupid game
because it's dumb and boring and because really maybe
because nobody will ask me.
We sidestep getting excited about something
because we're not sure it's actually going to happen.
Low grade disconnection, is another symptom
of vulnerability avoidance.
We go through the motions.
It's like low grade fever.
It may not kill us but it keeps us pretty miserable.
Perfection is one of the, I call it the 200 pound shield,
how can anything go wrong if my life looks like an ad?
I'm going to perform and please
and make sure everything's perfect.
And perfectionism has nothing to do with striving for excellence.
It's nothing to do with healthy striving.
Healthy strive, people who I interview
who are absolutely accomplished and people who strive
for excellence are the biggest negotiators and compromisers
that I've ever interviewed.
Perfection is a tool to protect ourselves.
Extremism is a very simple equation,
faith minus vulnerability equals extremism.
Faith is the vulnerability that flows
between the shores of certainty.
Faith without vulnerability,
spirituality is inherently vulnerable.
It is believing in things we don't understand
or really can't see.
And last I believe the most universal way
that we are dealing with an intolerance for vulnerability
in our culture is that we numb and I'll talk
about this in a minute.
Let's go to a bigger question
and that is what is driving this intolerance
for vulnerability in us?
And I believe the answer is scarcity.
We live in a culture that tells us that there is never enough.
That we are not enough, that we are not good enough,
that we are not safe enough,
that we can never be certain enough,
that we're not perfect enough and maybe the one
that we really don't talk
about that I think is perhaps the most dangerous is
that we are not extraordinary enough.
In this world somehow an ordinary life has become
synonymous with a meaningless life.
And so often we are missing what is truly important
because we are on the quest for what is extraordinary,
not understanding that in our ordinary lives,
in the ordinary moments of our lives is really
where we can find the most joy.
One of the things that happens I think in our culture
of scarcity is that we are constantly collecting images
and messages and experiences, I think it's unconscious.
I really don't think that we're aware of how many messages
and images of scarcity that we collect every day.
And I want to tell a story about something that happened
about six months ago that I think really illustrates this.
So I have to catch a flight to go do a talk somewhere
and my daughter's, you know I have a five year old
and an 11 year old, and my daughter is really struggling
with a school project.
I am definitely in the scarcity mode.
I shouldn't be going.
I'm not a good enough mom.
I can't balance all of this.
I have to go to my bank, which is inside of a grocery store,
which is, I don't know if that happens here
but in Texas all the banks have moved inside the grocery stores.
[laughter] So I walk into the grocery store sliding glass,
you know the sliding glass doors
and there's a big code Adam sticker, which tells,
if you don't know what that is,
it's an incredibly important program but it's a program
that says this store and its employees are trained
that when a child has gone missing or nabbed,
everything in the store shuts down.
So I look at that and I think oh God, okay, just stay focused,
Renee, no one is going to nab your kids while you're away.
I go and get my money.
I get back in the car and get on the freeway toward the airport
and I pass the Amber Alert, keep driving, Renee, keep driving.
About two miles past the Amber Alert there's a sign
that tells me that 39 people have been killed
on that specific stretch of highway [laughter]
and please wear my seatbelt.
Then I get to the airport and of course I'm in line
to security getting naked
and I hear the threat code has been moved to orange.
And then I go through this thing that I'm like oh my God,
holy crap, is it always orange.
You know I was like I'm going to start writing on my hand
with a Sharpie, it's always orange.
Orange is not, you know, hasn't gone bad.
I'm like what is it?
Okay so I'm like orange, okay, it's orange.
I think it was orange yesterday.
[laughter] Maybe something happened
and I was busy reading the Amber Alert,
then trying to find a license plate.
So I get to my gate and I sit down and they're
like do not leave unattended baggage, you know and I look
down and there's a bag.
[laughter] And I'm like oh my God, wait, it's a diaper bag
and I know that mother is like 10 feet away chasing her kid
and I'm like but I saw this on Law and Order [laughter]
and I'm going to board that plane
and then the next thing you're going to hear is chink, chink,
that Law and Order chink and then we're going to blow up.
So I get on the plane and I'm really getting ready to start,
I'm in kind of what you would call,
I would say, an anxiety attack.
So I'm having an anxiety attack and a guy comes in,
I'm flying business class and a guy comes in
and he's sitting next to me.
He turns out to be a supply chain manager consultant.
And so he looks over and he's like, are you okay?
I'm good. What's up?
And my phone rings and my son's face pops up.
Well he's five so that means his school is calling.
Hello, Charlie's got a fever.
Can you come get him?
So I'm like you know I text my husband.
I take care of it.
And the guy next to me says really, are you okay?
By this time you know the cabin doors are closed.
And I said you know what, I'm good.
But I'm having that thing
where I can't decide whether my gut is saying get off the flight
something's going to happen or I'm just freaking out
and I'm trying to figure out how to do something crazy enough
to get off the flight but to not end up on the no fly list.
[laughter] So this, I'm a super blast to fly with.
[laughter] So then he said let me get you a drink.
And I said you know, I don't drink.
And he goes Xanax?
And I was like, no, I don't do Xanax either,
which is a shame but I don't.
But then when I realize is it really makes me think
about my work because we numb vulnerability.
Now had he said chips and queso,
that would have been a completely different issue.
[laughter] Evidence of the numbing,
we are the most addicted, we are the most medicated,
obese and in debt adult cohort in human history.
We're numbing and this doesn't even include business.
I didn't even put the busy slide up.
You know when they start having busy recovering meetings they'll
have to, busy 12 step meetings, they'll have to rent
out football stadiums because we just stay so busy that the truth
of our lives just can't catch up but that's the plan.
And so what are the consequences of numbing vulnerability?
What are the consequences of trying
to beat vulnerability to the punch?
Here's the consequence to numbing that I've learned.
You know as a vulnerability researcher I've spent the first
six years of my research studying shame, empathy
and courage and the last four years studying joy,
authenticity, love and belonging.
And one of the things that I learned that was very startling
for me personally and everyone I've ever met is
that you cannot selectively numb emotion.
When we numb the dark emotion, when we numb vulnerability
and fear and shame of not being good enough,
we by default numb joy.
We cannot selectively just numb the dark emotions.
We have interesting research around this.
We have research that shows us in addition studies
that an intensely positive experience is as likely
to trigger relapse as an intensely negative experience.
Let me tell you, if vulnerability is a sharp edge,
there may be nothing sharper than joy, to let yourself soften
into loving someone, to caring
about something passionately, that's vulnerable.
So the question becomes how do we embrace vulnerability?
And here's what I learned from the research,
we practice gratitude.
We stop and be thankful for what we have.
I've interviewed a lot of people who have been
through many horrific things from genocide to trauma
and when you ask them what they need,
they will tell you I don't need your pity.
I don't need your sympathy.
When you look at your children, I need to know you're grateful.
I need to know that you know what you have
so to practice gratitude, to honor what's ordinary
about our lives because that is what's truly extraordinary.
We can compete with the images from the media, from the news,
from the scary shows on TV, with our own images of gratitude
about what's ordinary in our lives, the people we love,
our kids, our family, play, our community and nature.
These are things that happen every single day,
that we're so busy being afraid, we're missing these.
So that's, I think, the biggest thing, is to be grateful
for what we have, to honor what's ordinary and last,
I just want to say that, and I'm a parent
and I'm a vulnerable person too
but I really believe you know we want more guarantees.
We want to believe we're not going to get hurt
and that bad things are not going to happen and they are.
But there is a guarantee that no one talks about and that is
that if we don't allow ourselves to experience joy and love,
we will definitely miss out on filling our reservoir
with what we need when those hard things happen.
And so I'll end on the note that I'm grateful
for your time tonight and I'm grateful to be here
and I hope this is something that we can do together
because I believe
in vulnerability we'll find what really gives purpose
and meaning to our lives.
Thank you.