She cried, and I saw it coming. Openly sharing painful lived experiences does that to a person. It breaks you. But it also connects you to others. It has a healing power. It allows you to create a space for yourself – for liberation. To let go of your demons. It’s probably the single most selfless act one could possibly engage in. Vulnerability is an act of courage. That is, to be vulnerable in the face of struggle and pain is to have the absolute conviction that what you choose to reveal about yourself to others is real. It’s important, and worth sharing. In essence, this realness reflects your deepest, and most authentic self. You are living your Truth – boldly and unapologetically. It’s honest, it’s raw, it’s heart wrenching. It has the power to stir emotions. Tears are bound to flow. We grit our teeth. We curl our fists. Our voices rise with anger and quiver with agony. The tension in the room is palpable. And so are the energies we bring with it. Vulnerability does not come with a distinct taste or sound. But we can certainly name it when we see it. Vulnerability is human connection, and vice versa. You cannot have one without the other. To be vulnerable necessitates a bond or an exchange of sorts between two or more people. I believe that most of the time, vulnerability is a choice. It’s a brave choice we make when we feel comfortable enough (yet just barely) with who’s receiving us and our stories.
I was recently reminded of the power that vulnerability truly has in our daily interactions with one another. In my capacity at work, I engage youth in conversations around issues of equity, and together we reflect on how diversity and inclusion are practiced (or not) in their community. I notice the shift of energy in the room almost instantly. The air vibrates with excitement and anxiety all at once. Their faces become heavy with emotion. One look is all I need to know where these youth are at. The glisten in their eyes twinkle with a hopeful anticipation. Their accounts are both striking and honest. One 16-year-old recalls the several encounters she’s had with Islamophobia as a newcomer Muslim youth to Canada. She speaks of how she has to constantly negotiate her identity. She expresses feeling as though she has had to erase her culture, and relives what it felt like to have rocks thrown at her hijab-wearing mother. This very act of negotiation serves as an automatic response mechanism – for survival, a way to reassert one’s innate right to simply exist, to make sense of their place in the world. The tone of her voice intensified, her emotions heightened, and so began the unchoreographed flow of emotion dancing around the room. She expressed her shame for having to compromise parts of herself. Guilt filled her lungs. Her eyes filled with tears. And anger sharply pierced the air. The beauty of all this is that she gracefully reclaimed ownership of her own narrative. She did not once think, nor care for that matter, to recompose herself. This was her moment. It was real, and authentic. It was a moment of unadulterated truths inspiring a type of collective surrender.
Her vulnerability in sharing her pain brought to light the darkened parts of ourselves we were so afraid to touch. In one winding breath, as we inhaled, guards were let down, followed by an exhaled relief soon permeating all around us. We were letting go. She reminded us all that we’re never really alone – even when we think we are. We share in struggle, pain, and sacrifice. We long for healing, love, and understanding. Masks of hiding reveal the bare face of vulnerability and connection, embraced all together by compassion and empathy. And yet we cry. It’s a release from our tormented selves. Eventually you reach your breaking point. Spaces like this offer an escape route. A door opens itself up to a venturing journey into the unknown. It’s exhilaratingly terrifying, but it’s necessary all the same. This time, there is no harrowing saviour coming to our rescue. Nothing to fight off but our own insecurities, fears, and lowly inhibitions. The fantastical tales of the glitz and glam in our minds no longer exist here. We are armed and ready to save ourselves.