The Strength of Vulnerability; The Power of Gentleness

Posted on April 20, 2019


“Staying vulnerable is the risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.”

“Courage starts by showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”

“Vulnerability is not weakness… The uncertainty, risk, emotional exposure we face everyday are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our own vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.”

(Brene Brown)

So often we don our favorite facade and

off we go being the person we wish we were;

while hiding the person we really are.

What is this fear of revealing our true selves?

Why does it feel more safe to show a false front?

To show up as a stranger to ourselves and to those around us?

Life is a mirror constantly reflecting back to us that which we are projecting.

Are we afraid to be seen? Then others will be afraid to show themselves to us.

Do we really prefer to exist in a bubble of comfort that echos facade and falseness?

Don’t we all need places and spaces of people where we feel a sense of belonging?

Can we learn to be seen for who we are without fear, without regret?

Can we be the person that accepts others the way we want to be accepted?

If we really want to experience the feeling of being connected and of belonging,

then it is a given that we must show up genuinely, as we are,

willing to be seen and be heard and be accepted.

But in order for that to happen, we must mind our spaces, our places, our very being

by being safe, by accepting others, by valuing each other.

We must be the change we want to see first.

A Culture of Gentleness

Gentle Teaching is a series of trainings that at one time were required for all caregivers that worked with people with developmental disabilities within the Community Mental Health system that provides services to help them become more integrated in society and more independent. It was developed as a strategy to socialize and sort of civilize people that had been institutionalized in very inhuman settings so that they could learn to live among the people of their communities. All they knew was fear, rejection, abuse, violence, domination, control, and failure. The strategy that was proven to really work was so simple because it is so human. Here is the backbone of what we would teach:

1. A person must experience the feeling of being safe in the relationships they had with those around them; physical, emotional, mental, etc. Safety as a whole person was a new experience for them.

2. A person must experience the feeling of being valued (loved) among those around them.

3. Only once these two lived experiences were established could a person learn to value others (love others) and

4. become engaged in life. Which is part of the natural process of becoming connected where there is a sense of belonging.

This is a two way street. People are not ever going to open up and be vulnerable if it is not safe to do so AND is they do not feel valued once they do open up and reveal themselves.

So we developed very simple tools, reminders of how we create the space where people feel safe and valued. It begin with clear intention and awareness of what we are emitting to others. The tools of creating a Culture of Gentleness are something we all use everyday, but often not very consciously.

Eyes: Our eyes are windows to our feelings and personality. Our eyes must convey that we are safe and accepting and that we value that person.

Presence: Our presence can convey so many things; acceptance, rejection, anger, disdain. But can we be intentional about using our presence to embrace those around us?

Touch: Our touch is very powerful and touch is needed by everyone. How do we use our touch to create a sense of being safe and being valued to those around us?

Words: Our words can spark a fire of destruction or of warmth and acceptance. Words are powerful and can be use for pure destruction or for pure acceptance.

Only if we begin with gentleness, we can open up a our world to being real and vulnerable with each other. Otherwise it is not safe to do so. 

Can we learn to

mind our space

mind our place

mind our very being

our eyes

our presence

our touch

our words

so that

connection and

belonging can be a reality

in our own worlds?

The Power of Gentleness

“Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength”.

(St. Francis de Sales)

“‘Love doesn’t mean doing extraordinary or heroic things. It means knowing how to do ordinary things with tenderness.’ Tenderness and gentleness characterize the life and work of Jean Vanier as well as L’Arche movement. Vanier observes that ‘community is made of the gentle concern that people show each other every day. It is made up of the small gestures, of services and sacrifices which say ‘I love you’ and I am happy to be with you.’ It is letting the other go in front of you, not trying to prove that you are in the right in a discussion; it is taking the small burdens from the other.’” (The Politics of Gentleness)

Gentleness in our culture is infused with the idea of weakness. Aggressiveness is what makes a person “successful” in America. It never occurred to me that gentleness goes hand in hand with strength.

The human spirit is full of seeming contradictions. What we do with these contradictions define who we are. Some people see the world in black and white and seem to have no choice but to embrace one side of themselves and disregard anything contradictory. But why nullify a part of ourselves just because it doesn’t seem to make sense? This is very difficult with Western thought that is always striving to compartmentalize, separate, categorize, and label things. Eastern thinking tends to embrace contradictions, recognizing the mystery of the human spirit, and reconciling and integrating apparent contradictions into a life of paradox.

In the book, Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, warriorship is taught as a way of life. A warrior lives a life of fearlessness only if the person lives a life that is fully aware and fully present. The characteristic at the core of warriorship is gentleness; which comes from tenderness.

“Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness. It comes from letting the world (touch) your heart, your raw and beautiful heart. You are willing to open up, without resistance or shyness, and face the world. You are willing to share your heart with others.”

“In the Shambhala tradition, discovering fearlessness comes from working with the softness of the human heart.” “When a human being first gives birth to the tender heart of warriorship… You no longer need to feel shy or embarrassed about being gentle. In fact, your softness begins to become passionate. You would like to extend yourself to others and communicate with them. When tenderness evolves in that direction, then you can truly appreciate the world around you. Sense perceptions become very interesting things. You are so tender and open already that you cannot help opening yourself to what takes place all around you … You begin to feel comfortable being a gentle and decent person.”

Gentleness is a part of the human experience that seems to have gotten lost in America’s individualistic, materialistic, success-driven culture. The good news is that gentleness and tenderness is there, embedded in the heart of every human being. And with the intentional work of nurturing the self, we can each become integrated and whole, embracing apparent contradictions, living the paradox inherent in humanity.