One of the most profound sentiments on vulnerability comes from C.S. Lewis, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken….” The quote goes on to say that the only escape from vulnerability is essentially a stone-cold heart; a heart free from feeling. I don’t challenge Lewis’s argument about love and vulnerability – that the two go hand in hand. But I do wonder if and how vulnerability has changed over time since Lewis wrote those words in The Four Loves. It can be argued for example, that though although what constitutes love stays the same, how each generation defines it and seeks it, might be different. So, what about vulnerability? Have we changed it? And if so, how?
Vulnerability, I think, begins with honesty about one’s self, and it’s not easy to be honest. Not in the sense of not telling lies but in the sense of always being true to one’s convictions and validating the senses and feelings and thoughts one has. We begin our lives in a vulnerable state – needing food, water, shelter, and love. Most of us become attached to our mothers bodies right from birth; we bond. We cry, we laugh, we are curious, and we love. Then somewhere along the way, we learn how to only show parts of ourselves, negate the bad emotions we feel, close ourselves in part or in whole from the world entirely; we become less honest.
We who are blessed to have access to so much communication at all times, seem to find it most difficult to communicate. So many mediums, so many methods, and yet we are not necessarily a better people for it. In fact, some would argue that we are a lesser people. We perform between a space of shutting people out and absorbing ourselves in our loneliness; simultaneously sharing perfectly calculated bits and pieces of our lives with others. We share and we overshare but a certain emptiness still remains; an emptiness that ironically comes from being so consumed with our presentation of self.
You may be able to deceive others for a time but chances are, you cannot deceive yourself. You know better than anybody what an honest you might look like. And perhaps that’s what makes vulnerability so difficult – seeing your state of being, when you remove all the embellishments and pretenses and performances. The fear of seeing yourself as you really are, whatever that might look like, often keeps us in the space of being someone comfortable, even at great personal cost to the body and the soul.
Perhaps then, courage is a prerequisite of vulnerability – the courage to strip ourselves of what makes us comfortable and substitute it with what makes us, us. Even if it brings discomfort to our bodies and to others. Knowing too that we have choices about who we want to become, no matter how difficult those choices might be. Perhaps vulnerability looks different on everyone. It’s not the prerogative of only those who are loud about their thoughts but also those who are quiet and subtle and thinking. But whatever their other qualities, all vulnerable people are brave.
It seems to me that vulnerability is less a destination, and more a daily practice. It seems like a sense of peace with yourself, and with that self in relation to others, individually and as whole. I’ve come to realize for me, and I think for most people, allowing others to see multiple sides of you and not just the side they are most comfortable with constitutes vulnerability. But I do not think it means that everyone is owed your soul or is deserving of the right to know all of you. I think like all virtues, vulnerability is a balancing act. And like courage and love, wisdom is needed in its practice.
So love, be vulnerable, and indeed be. And in that being, in that becoming, discover what the most authentic self of you is; the one that makes you feel at home in your body and spirit. This, I think, is what it really is means to be vulnerable.