The other day, I was meeting with one of my women’s groups. We’re all getting to know each other really well, and one woman asked a pretty deep question. Another said, “Wow. You’re asking us to be pretty vulnerable.” And then we each answered, from the heart, and with faith that we would face no judgment. It was a magical evening for me, to be among women who could share so deeply and with such trust.
The dictionary defines “vulnerable” as “susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm.” A vulnerable person, it says, is “in need of special care.” In this overly judgmental, critical, opinionated, outspoken culture we live in, it’s scarier than ever to show our true colors and speak our truths, and yet artists learn early on that our best work emerges when we turn ourselves inside out on the page or on the stage and let our audiences see what lies deep within us.
This doesn’t mean we should air our dirty laundry or seek only to shock our audiences, but when we allow our emotions to show, expose our fears, acknowledge our regrets, and reveal what we’ve learned, we create what’s called “universal appeal,” which means our stories or songs or paintings are no longer just about us. They become something our audiences can relate to, even if their lives seem nothing like ours.
I experienced this phenomenon again last night when I turned in an essay to my writer’s group that divulged many things I’d kept secret my whole life or told only to my husband or very close friends. I trust the members of this group, and the time had come for me to write these things out of my being, but in doing so, I’d leave myself vulnerable to their judgement, misunderstanding, or ridicule. I knew in this group of friends, that wouldn’t happen. But if they convinced me to publish the essay, I would be standing naked before strangers. I kind of hoped they’d say they hated it, and I could put it aside forever.
But they liked it. And they related to it. And they felt themselves a part of it. And that’s the power of art. It takes our individual hopes and pains and says, “This is me. Is this you too?” And the answer is often a resounding yes. We are more alike than we are different.
So be vulnerable. Tell us your stories. Share your shames. Admit your mistakes. Revel in your successes. Chances are we’ll be too busy thanking you for giving voice to our similar joys and sorrows to judge you.
And for those who do judge, don’t judge them back. That path leads only to pain. Just remember, their judgment is their weight to carry, not yours.
Here’s what I’m learning: if being vulnerable requires trust, the first person I need to trust is myself. Trust that we I am strong enough to stand in my truth. Are you?
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