"Vulnerability is not weakness.... Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.”
March 16, 2012 2:09 PM   Subscribe

Brené Brown: Listening to shame. Filmed this month at TED in Long Beach, CA. (YouTube) Also see: The Power of Vulnerability (yt, previously on MeFi), and The Price of Invulnerability.

Ms. Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. Her TED bio page.

TED's Master Storytellers series.
posted by zarq (16 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
The entire video is about 20 minutes long, and a transcript is not yet available. There's a point about 14 minutes in that I thought was particularly good:
"Here's what you need to know. Shame is highly, highly correlated, with addiction, depression, violence, aggression, bullying, suicide, eating disorders. And here's what you even need to know more: Guilt? Inversely correlated with those things. The ability to hold something we've done or want to do up against who we want to be, is incredibly adaptive. It's uncomfortable, but it's adaptive.

The other thing you need to know about shame is it's absolutely organized by gender.... Shame for women is this web of unattainable, conflicting, competing expectations of who we're supposed to be. And it's a straitjacket. For men, shame is not a bunch of competing, conflicting expectations. Shame is one: Do not be perceived as weak.

I did not interview men for the first four years of my study. And it wasn't until a man looked at me one day after a book signing and said to me, "I love what you have to say about shame, but I'm curious why you didn't mention men." And I said, "I don't study men." And he said, "That's convenient." And I said, "Why?" And he said, "Because you say to reach out, tell our story, be vulnerable. But you see those books you just signed for my wife and my three daughters? They'd rather me die on top of my horse than watch me fall down. When we reach out and be vulnerable, we get the shit beat out of us. And don't tell me from the guys and the coaches and the dads. Because the women in my life are harder on me than anyone else."

posted by zarq at 2:52 PM on March 16, 2012 [14 favorites]

But our concept of "strength" is a bunch of competing, conflicting expectations. Sometimes it means being emotionally available, feeling pain, and moving on. Sometimes it means being wholly unemotional. Sometimes it means being intellectual, other times that's considered effete.
posted by LogicalDash at 3:03 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Strength, in my mind, is to not duck any of the feelings coming at you, but at the same time, don't let your reaction to those feelings make things worse.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:20 PM on March 16, 2012 [5 favorites]

Several years back, I applied for this wacky telementoring gig where you were supposed to coach a pretty large caseload of distance learning students, support them and keep them on track. The first interview was a group interview and the interviewers made a big deal about how the interview wasn't like Survivor and we weren't in competition (pretty oblivious to the burgeoning unemployment crunch.)

Back then I would facilitate public speaking lessons for young leaders and I had a great, inspirational spiel about how powerful it was to overcome one of the most common fears (public speaking) in a safe environment and how even more empowering it would be for you to later tell your mentees that you, that person often talking in front of the room, was also shy about public speaking and worked through it. That is to say, I showed them how to turn a vulnerability into an opportunity.

So, flashing back to the group interview: We're supposed to work as a group to brainstorm qualities of a great mentor. I throw out some easy ones, sit back and then say, "vulnerability." Crickets chirp. I explain succinctly. The bossiest cointerviewee corrects, "oh you mean 'honesty'."

I did make the second and was invited to a third interview, but didn't take the job mostly because the vacation benefits sucked, but also because high stakes telementoring is a gawdawful idea.
posted by Skwirl at 3:40 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yay Long Beach!

Anyway, I unfortunately don't have time to watch the whole thing right now but I have a hard time believing that guilt isn't correlated with depression. Perhaps "guilt" and "shame" are words that we use more interchangeably than they are? Can any of those that have had time to watch it enlighten?
posted by Defenestrator at 4:26 PM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm three minutes into this talk and I'm having a really hard time with her narrative wandering and meta TED-referencing. I'm interested in the discussion around shame and vulnerability, but I really wish there was a transcript.
posted by fake at 4:39 PM on March 16, 2012

That bugged me too, fake. Then I skipped ahead to the 14 minute mark mentioned above and it got better.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 5:56 PM on March 16, 2012

@Fake: If you're interested in that sort of thing, chapters 4-6 of Martha Nussbaum's Hiding from Humanity contain a fascinating discussion of shame shame (though, it is presented through the lens of law), and reference a lot of other equally intriguing works on the circumstances that lead to shame, the emotional significance of shame, and the socioeconomic impact of shame.

Irving Goffman's Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity is also a great read.
posted by BrandonW at 6:25 PM on March 16, 2012 [7 favorites]

I am now ashamed of my above typo.
posted by BrandonW at 6:26 PM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Listening to Shame.

Funny, that's the name of my old metal band's first album.

4 song demo, actually. And one of them was a cover.
posted by LordSludge at 7:10 PM on March 16, 2012

Thank you, BrandonW!
posted by fake at 7:21 PM on March 16, 2012

Years ago, I read Frederick Turner's incredibly eloquent and succinct book Beauty: The Value of Values (now apparently out of print, unfortunately). I used it as a guide to a series of lectures I delivered to high school students on Evolutionary Aesthetics. But there was one chapter I had a hard time with: Chapter Two, as I remember: shame. (I am going to teach this course again, after a ten-year hiatus, next school year.)

I'd like to respond to her video, but I couldn't make my way through it. BUT I do want to say that the impact of shame in our culture is larger than I realized fifteen years ago. We do not talk about it much. We think it is part of the vocabulary of old school psychoanalysts. But, no, it is something we don't talk about because it is a secret we all carry within ourselves.

To use a metaphor from one of my teachers, Lar Short, if we were to all throw our secret shames into the middle of the room, as if they were our shoes, we could probably not find our own personal shame shoe to retrieve. Our secret shames are not as personally damning as we feel them to be. We all carry around these as burdens, as invisible barriers to honest and beautiful expression of our authentic beings. I am not an expert in this, as is apparent in my opening. It took a long time for me to recognize that this is a real issue, at least in Euro-American culture, and, in other cultures as well, as I understand it. Shame, and its less emotionally-laden cousin, vulnerability, are things we are not encouraged to discuss.

Of course, TedTalks, as the speaker points out, are supposed to be inspirational talks about creativity, innovation and...oh, something else. Dale Carnegie redux.
posted by kozad at 7:33 PM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Shame for women is this web of unattainable, conflicting, competing expectations of who we're supposed to be.

I like some of what Brene has to say, but this? Really? After watching the video I can't help but think, for every decree about How Things Work™ there will always be exceptions.
posted by squeak at 11:46 AM on March 17, 2012

I hate to be critical of Brene Brown because she's so well-intentioned, but I really have trouble following her sometimes. I wish her work was in a bullet-point list somewhere rather than lectures and interviews that tend to digress.
posted by quincunx at 1:48 PM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Meaningful topic and inspiring video. Thanks.
posted by nickyskye at 11:17 PM on March 18, 2012

I've finally gotten around to watching/listening to this latest talk on shame. Thanks for posting this -- I'm a big fan of hers. For me, the digressions make the talks much easier to listen to and understand on a personal level than a slideshow full of bullet points.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:52 PM on March 28, 2012

« Older The wizard under the hill   |   The attack of the dot-clones Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments