Jo de Blois
The Power of Vulnerability
Vulnerability is one of the main ingredients for freedom, human thriving, and happiness. Vulnerability goes hand in hand with honesty and transparency. But also with courage.
Silly quirky us
We all have odd, quirky habits and behaviors, or we make mistakes. For example, we all have wardrobe malfunctions. We all have emotional outbursts that we try to hide. We all put our foot in our mouths at times, and we spill our food, you name it. There are countless examples of little and small things that reveal that we are not perfect.
What we do, esp. In our western world, we try to hide those mistakes. We are afraid that if people see that we are not perfect, they will attack us, harm us, or expose us. So we try to hide our quirky and silly human habits. We get offended when people joke about us. We hide our emotions because we think they are a sign of weakness. We try to hide anything that isn’t perfect from social media. When we are in company, we try to portray ourselves as normal as we possibly can.
But the joke is on us. Because everybody knows we are not perfect. Nobody is normal. We all have the same silly things. But because we all try to hide it, we all, as a society, uphold standards that are not really humane. If I try to be entirely perfect and hide and stay silent about my imperfections, I silently tell others to do the same. And so we all have built together with a culture that hides, that upholds high standards for each other, and that aims for perfection.
What if we become vulnerable and transparent?
What would happen if we allowed ourselves to be vulnerable, honest, and transparent about our weaknesses, failures, and mistakes?
I was wandering around in Tel Aviv one day when I saw a woman running toward me. She was crying loudly, completely overwhelmed. Suddenly, the doors of the shops opened, and people came outside. One with a chair, one with a glass of water. They put the chair down for her, and a few men and women sat beside her and asked her what was wrong and to talk. This woman’s vulnerability had evoked compassion, kindness, and humanity in random strangers. Her expression of humanity and imperfection evoked love in others.
There are many other cultures where this behavior is more common. In Nigeria, people who lost a loved one would cry loudly, unstoppably in the middle of town. It would attract people who would cry alongside until there would be a whole group of weepers, just like in biblical times. Yes, the man or woman who had lost exposed his or her grief openly without holding back. But at least they were crying together.
Vulnerability binds people together. When I am honestly imperfect, I allow others to be as well. The Bible is all about this imperfect vulnerability. Jesus said to his disciples that he was very sad, and Paul said he was very weak. Just admitting that evokes the patience and empathy of others and makes the burden of perfection so much lighter and the yoke of your own and other people’s expectations much easier.
You may say: I don’t trust this other person, and they will use my mistakes or weaknesses against me. There are two things to say about this.
We have to lean toward openness and honesty while still discerning. Jesus was himself, but there were those to whom Jesus did not entrust himself to. John says that Jesus knew what was in some people’s hearts and did not entrust himself to them. It is not good to have a default of self-preservation. But there are times when it is better to do so.
If people hurt you for your common, human weaknesses, there is likely a reason that is not in you but theirs. Sometimes it is your liberty that they are jealous of. Or anger that you will not conform to their standards of perfection. Often, when others hurt us, it is because of pains, problems, and sins in their own lives, not ours. Keeping that in mind helps us not feel insecure or beaten down when others hurt us but to live on in freedom.
I always try to remember that we are humans, not machines. We all develop, and we develop in the right direction with some training. But we make mistakes. We all do. And we all need grace for each other to allow all of us to live with honest, open imperfections and mistakes. And when we have this attitude, making mistakes is no longer a threat.
And that is what freedom is.