Vulnerability has become all the rage.
Fully say what you really mean. Tell someone how you feel about something painful. Stand up for what you believe. Take risks for your authenticity. Embrace the scary stuff. Be your true self and let your freak flag fly.
Different from confidence and more like super-charged chutzpah, watch Professor Brené Brown’s TED Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability,” and her filmed lecture, Brené Brown: The Call to Courage, which debuted on Netflix in 2019. Brown sums up what a lot of us intuitively yearn to do, but don’t because we are afraid of being shamed or chastised. Worse yet, many fear they’ll be ostracized by the very tribe they seek acceptance from.
Each week (usually at 3 a.m. on Monday, well past the deadline but most inspired) I write this column with a measured modicum of vulnerability. I’m told the best of them come from a place where I put myself “out there” and write from the heart. Where I hang my coffee-stained laundry in public and am rewarded by feedback from readers who partner in solidarity with me on a social issue or thank me for sharing an intimate experience mirroring their own.
Two years ago I wrote a column about the passing of my mother, The Betty (may she rest in peace), and how devastating it was on levels I didn’t know existed. It was vulnerable and raw and struck a chord with contest judges in South Dakota, who gave it an award in the annual Maine Press Association Better Newspaper Contest.
Granted, the 2020 MPA award was for third place but it felt like a Pulitzer prize to me. In fact, I think of that column more as a tribute to the vulnerability of the content than my writing expertise. (Feel free to disagree.)
Vulnerability in personal growth and development is very different from the capitalistic perspective and goals of large companies, so Brown works with global business leaders to introduce and incorporate the concept into their organizational communication strategy.
It’s complicated, admirable stuff so (taking a deep breath here) I’m calling out the Austin-based Ph.D.-holder to look in her own backyard at the community and business leaders who have remained stone silent on SB 8, the “Heartbeat Bill,” which effectively bans abortion in very early pregnancy and allows people to report anyone who may have helped secure an abortion in any manner.
There, I said it. It is out there.
David Gelles of The New York Times wrote a must-read article outlining the nitty-gritty of the abortion law, but as a journalist and a man, he doesn’t have to put skin in the game unless he wants to. As a woman and an advocate for authenticity and vulnerability, Brown does.
I ask her, and all pro-SB 8 Texans, “Why on earth are we moving backward on such a fundamental issue as a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body?” For those who cite religious beliefs, I invite them to think about the separation of church and state, and the reason the Founding Fathers (most likely influenced by founding mothers) made it a priority.
Large Texas companies including American Airlines, Dell Technologies, AT&T, Phillips 66, and more have been quick to back social issues like restrictive voting, climate change, and immigration. But they lack the courage to bring their support of International Women’s Day home where it is needed most. I’m not an advocate for financial suicide, but the collective business community with far-reaching interests needs to act or react soon to the multitudes of women who are consumers, voters, and activists.
So seriously do I take this issue, that I’m boycotting Austin-based Tito’s vodka (they wouldn’t talk to me about SB 8). I’m also going to switch my phone plan, avoid American Airlines, and quit Diet Coke. Behind the scenes, other companies contributed to the politicians and parties that supported the bill, but that gets murky so I’ll start where I can.
As Gelles points out, not all companies are deaf to the cause but few have taken their stance to the streets. And this is where Brown can help her fellow Texans embrace their authenticity and ask themselves why they’re really opposed to something that has nothing to do with them. Something that impacts only the woman involved who may just reach for a cold Diet Coke after leaving a medically supervised, legal abortion clinic.
Maybe Brown can guide everyone through another TED talk or on her blogcast to remember the division of church and state and to be open enough to let others make their own choices. This is a tall order as big as Texas, but Brown is in a unique place to teach others the necessity of truth and the art of vulnerability around the issue.
She should use her influence as a professor, a clinical social worker, and above all, a proud Texas woman with a first-place award-winning voice.
Natalie Ladd is a Portland restaurant veteran, freelance writer, and connoisseur of all things Bruce Springsteen. She loves Boston sports, chewy red wine, and has never sampled a cheese she didn’t like. She can be reached at [email protected]