Updated: Jun 18, 2020
By: Nancy Phung
“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome.” -Brene Brown
But what if the outcome is culturally disrespectful? What if it results in misunderstanding, shame or even familial disownment?
In 2011, researcher, professor, speaker, author Brene Brown took the digital space by storm with her TED talk entitled “The Power of Vulnerability”. This talk is one of the top five most viewed TED Talks in the world with over 35 million views and remains one of the most viewed videos on YouTube.
Brown has spent her career studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy--when she speaks, her well-spoken and eloquent words are paired like poetry. The words, experience, and themes that she shares are not only relatable, they tug at the heart.
I saw Brown’s Netflix special, “Call to Courage” as soon as it came out. Inspired by her words, I pulled out a piece of paper and scribbled notes throughout the entire time that I watched it. A couple of weeks ago, I pulled those notes out again and wondered: are these themes and Brown’s call to action culturally competent?
To answer that, there are three points from the Netflix special I want to address and provoke some thought on: shame, choosing courage over comfort, and the story we tell ourselves.
Brown describes shame as, “the feeling that you would get if you walked out of a room that is filled with people who know you, and they start saying such hurtful things about you and you don’t know if you could ever walk back in and face them ever again in your life.” The fear and avoidance of this shame results into what Brown explains as “engineered smallness”, and the inability to step into one’s power.
But what if that room is filled with family? And the hurtful things that were said, were voiced as expectations, advice, and standards of well-being? What if smallness is a family role given at birth; and power a culturally ingrained hierarchy?
Choosing Courage Over Comfort:
Within the first fifteen minutes of her special, Brown asks her audience to dare greatly. She calls upon us to choose courage over comfort. As though she is standing by our side, hand in hand, she tells us to be brave, to show up, take chances--to know that we will fail, and know that it will be worth it.
Is being brave speaking up? Or is being brave respectfully holding your tongue? Is the way we choose to show up precipitating or healing generational trauma? Are the chances we choose to take holding empathy for ourselves or for the collective unit? And who is the comfort for?
The Story We Tell Ourselves:
Pulling from her years of research, Brown concludes that resilience stems from the narratives that we hold. She explains that when something challenging happens, our brain automatically wants to understand the story in order to protect us. It does this by figuring out who the good and bad guys are, the themes, and how we prefer the storyline to end.
But what if your story is not linear? What if it is shared? What if the story we tell ourselves is not as simple as figuring out the forces that are for or against us, but a story that goes on for generations? One that is tightly woven, and makes the most sense when told together.
These are a handful of thoughts that continue to sit with me. These points respectfully challenges us, and leaders like Brown, to take the dialogue deeper. It hopes to make future conversations around mental health and well-being more culturally inclusive.
As someone entering the mental health field with a passion for celebrating the power and beauty of the human experience, Brene Brown is like a favorite love song I want to listen to over and over again. I humbly believe that her work is important in today’s society--she captures a sense of finding home within ourselves.
In revisiting this particular piece of Brown’s work, it has made me wonder how it was possible, that as I experienced such connection to her words, I simultaneously was overlooking a huge part of myself--my culture.