“I love you” is a big one. “I’m sorry” is another. “I forgive you” is powerful for both the speaker and the recipient. But the phrase we need to use more often that can change the way we relate to others and the way we view the world has become unpopular:
Vulnerability is not prized within our society, especially male vulnerability. When we acknowledge our need for help, we go beyond just connecting with others; we reveal our needs and allow ourselves to receive. Why is this so hard? Why do we fight it?
It isn’t just our innate skills or strengths that help us survive and bounce back from difficult times; it’s also making the choice to reach out to others.
When we choose vulnerability, we open the doors of communication in a life changing way. It’s easy for most of us to give. It feels life affirming to help others, to give of ourselves. Even with the most altruistic intentions, the act of giving does make us feel better too. But asking for help and being willing to receive help from others is much harder. When we take that risk—the risk that the answer might be rejection, ridicule or an unwillingness to help–we are not being weak. We are being vulnerable, which is perhaps our greatest untapped strength.
Recently, I reached out to several friends for help about a difficult situation I was wrestling with. It still wasn’t easy to ask for help, but since I’ve been cultivating this habit, it’s gotten easier. Life is never “stress-free,” but we all have those times that seem particularly overwhelming, where we get so tired that word “tired” just doesn’t do it justice anymore. These are the times when it seems hardest to reach out, and these are the times when we need to do it the most.
What if we, as a culture, shifted the way we look at vulnerability altogether?
Even as we evolve the idea of masculinity away from tired and harmful stereotypes, we still do not champion the idea of vulnerability as a strength. When we choose to trust, we are exhibiting tremendous strength.
When we ask for help:
- We are exhibiting security in our own self worth. We know that having a need doesn’t negate our value as a person.
- We are choosing to trust the person we ask for help; this is a reflection of our respect for them as well as our confidence in our own ability to choose our partners and allies well.
- We are cultivating our emotional intelligence and using our resources wisely. None of us can do everything. All of us need help. It is a wise person that chooses to ask for help before a problem is out of control, and a brave person who sees when things are out of control and still finds the wherewithal to reach out for help.
- We are setting an example for others of vulnerability as a strength, and helping to break down this idea of asking for help as weakness.
If we are going to change this conversation, we need to start examining how powerful vulnerability can be.