”Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” — Brené Brown
It took a while, but I found it. It’s a short video of an ad in Denmark a few years ago that moved me so much the first time I saw it I often find myself thinking about it when things in the world seem off to me. You know, “things” like people not being able to get along or people acting as if everyone who looks different from them is inferior or not worth their time.
As I began thinking of how I wanted my year ahead to look to me, I chose a theme that I felt would encompass how that video made me feel and what I long to see in the world. Brown’s words directing us to vulnerability feel like the key to better understanding where I’m heading because, without being vulnerable, we cheat ourselves of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, accountability and authenticity.
Every day, we are reminded of how different we are from someone else. Maybe it’s the difference in the shoes we can afford, the difference in what we think is funny, or the difference in our heritage — my percentage of Neanderthal DNA over others is really huge, for example.
No matter what our differences are, the reminders of just how little we have in common rarely cease appearing. Or are those reminders wrong? Maybe we are more alike than we think, and definitely more alike than others have convinced us. There are many places I have seen the rewards for being vulnerable, but the ad for TV2 in Denmark is one of the best.
Putting people in boxes is what we do well. We don’t have to be vulnerable when we keep everyone compartmentalized and ourselves safely separate from those who aren’t like us. Yes, there is “us” and there is “them.”
As long as I stay inside my house, avoiding how anxious I feel out shopping or at an event, I can feel safe, but when I allow myself to be vulnerable, to go to a gathering of some sort, I discover meaning in life I would have missed. I would have missed meeting “you,” and there are so many of “you” out there.
If you watch the short video, you’ll see a group of people, all ages, who definitely come from different walks in life. You’ll see the high earners and the ones barely getting by; the people you would trust and the people you would normally avoid. You’ll see people in suits and people with sleeves of ink.
And then you’ll see the participants switch the box they are in when the announcer asks them to go to the gathering spot based on unique descriptions:
• Class clown
• Believe in life after death
• Have seen UFOs
• Love to dance
• Have been bullied
• Have bullied others
• Are brokenhearted
• Are madly in love
• Feel lonely
And what was amazing was the vulnerability it took for a person to admit belonging to some groups. When the person went by themselves to the spot as the only one who was bisexual, every person in the place broke into applause as they celebrated someone else’s courage. At the end, there was a sense of oneness and unity, and the lines of boxes were suddenly invisible. And yes, that’s where I’m headed.
I’ve spent the last eight or nine years watching relationships fracture up close, locally, and globally. I had a friend who I loved talking with almost every day until we discovered a difference that, instead of choosing not to discuss, we allowed to become a wall in the relationship. It’s a sadness I still feel. Have you had similar experiences?
So, for 2023, I’m asking myself and you to not always take the easy way, the comfortable way when it comes to how we deal with other people. I love what Oscar Wilde said. “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” It’s easy to see the differences and divisions in people, but we could choose to not stay in that gutter view, and instead look at the stars, what we have in common.
And that’s my word and theme for the year ahead: commonality. It might not be as pretty a word as some I’ve chosen, but by the end of the year, I hope each of us will have moved a step or two in a better direction.
Commonality is the idea that two or more things or people share qualities, features, perspectives, or experiences — they have these things in common. Words I will use to build and convey the importance of looking for commonality are connection, harmony, united, empathy, vulnerability and oneness. Maybe you’ll notice these words popping up in your own life.
It’s easier to make a note of the differences, after all. You drive that fancy car, and he drives an old pickup. She wears designer everything, and you love a good thrift store. Heaven forbid that we vote differently or see the need for universal healthcare differently. Why would we want to be friends? If you and I both love writing or hiking or taking pictures or snuggling dogs or a good cup of coffee, we have at least one thing in common.
To want to find commonality, to want to experience better relationships in general, is a choice you and I get to make.
We can say that we just don’t want to have relationships with people who think differently than we do, but I believe that is how we landed where we are today. Our refusal to seek to understand and to listen to why others believe the way they do or act the way they do has led to polarization in our lives, both up close and far away.
It will take all year to explore commonality, and in the end, I believe many of us will be happier people able to find connection in surprising places.
Ram Dass said, “We are all just walking each other home.” I love walking alone out in the woods, but I also value walking with a friend, especially in the dark, when I’m trying to find my way. Maybe that’s a great approach of looking to the year ahead, “walking each other home.”
Cheers to the journey!
Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.