As the Americans would say ‘Brene Brown you rock!’ I finally got round to reading Brene Brown’s hot-to-trot book ‘Daring Greatly’ and, after all the hype, I was not disappointed. Given Brene Brown’s role as full-time academic researcher, I expected the book to be highbrow and sophisticated so I was surprised at the simple, direct and casual writing style. I certainly didn’t expect references to the lyrics of rock bands Whitesnake and Rush or frequent asides to the wisdom of singer Leonard Cohen. This writing style is disarming and therefore consistent with Brene Brown walking the talk as a champion of vulnerability and courage.
After reading ‘Daring Greatly’ I was reminded of a comment made by our own publisher, Nicholas Brealey, when Ian and I first discussed with him our ideas for ‘Challenging Coaching’. Nicholas mentioned that he liked the ideas because they captured something of the zeitgeist. Ian and I rushed for our pocket dictionaries to learn that ‘zeitgeist’ means ‘the spirit of the time’. In her own book, Brene Brown places her finger firmly on the pulse of the zeitgeist and relays the very heartbeat of our times with unnerving accuracy and candour. So what is this zeitgeist?
A clue to the answer to this question can be found on page 37 of ‘Daring Greatly’ where Brene Brown declares ‘Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable but they are never weaknesses.’ Let us examine these words more closely. First, Brene maps vulnerability to courage and truth then she highlights that these characteristics do not lead to comfort but discomfort. Finally, she claims that being uncomfortable is a strength i.e. something to be actively pursued and developed.
The fact that these words hit many us straight between the eyes is that, on the one hand, they strike us as intuitively right yet, on other hand, they fly in the face of everything we appear to have been taught. It is like the moment when you suddenly recognise an optical illusion. You have been staring and staring yet could not see the hidden picture then, in a flash, it jumps out in front of you. You are aghast that for so long you could not decipher a pattern that was always there but once you have seen the hidden picture no one can conceal it from you again.
Regardless of how we ever came to think that vulnerability was a weakness, it is clear that the zeitgeist involves the scales falling from our eyes not just individually but ‘en masse’ as legions of normal folk suddenly wake up and say ‘Hey, I’ve seen the hidden picture. The idea that vulnerability is a weakness is an optical illusion. Truth and courage are strengths. What’s more, like Brene Brown, I’m willing to risk feeling uncomfortable to share this news with as many people as I can find.’ The zeitgeist is therefore a courageous drive to find and share the hidden truth. It is the challenging spirit of our times. It is daring greatly.
Brene Brown boldly claims that reframing vulnerability in this way is the opportunity to re-humanise our workplaces, families, schools and community institutions. I’m inclined to agree for wherever we look the cracks are beginning to appear in our traditional ways of getting by and getting things done. It would be easy to despair at such a realisation until we realise that, as Brene Brown quotes from Leonard Cohen, ‘There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in’.
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