Attempting to control external events will never keep us safe.
Control is an illusion.
Whatever we try to control, we separate from ourselves.
Whatever we try to fix, we ruin.
Life is sacred, and flows exactly as it should.
From The Tao Te Ching – Chapter 29
To be alive is to be vulnerable. There is no option. Yet how desperately we work to escape, deny, and hide that essential fact. This effort is a tragic waste of time. Not only is it futile, it diverts energy away from creativity, love and courage.
If outcomes could be assured, there would be no need whatsoever for courage. Since no outcome is ever truly assured, courage therefore becomes one of the fundamental energies of a well-lived life. Paul Tillich, one of the twentieth century’s great theological and philosophical minds, wrote a powerful book titled, The Courage To Be, which I read decades ago and assimilated long enough to regurgitate it on a graduate school exam. I’m going to find it again and let his lucid thinking sink into a deeper place in my mind. As the title asserts: to truly “be” is the great act of courage.
In the meantime, I am indebted to Brené Brown, a qualitative researcher and popular author, for her wonderful presentations in TED talks and in a Netflix special. She has an earthy presentation on the absolute necessity of wading into the vulnerability of life in order to experience any of the joy, creativity, and love we seek.
As I embarked on the adventure of “freedom, simplicity, and joy” I had no real idea of the deep vulnerability such a journey would engender in me. Each of those three qualities are predicated on the willingness to face vulnerability, in the form of physical, emotional, and spiritual risks and uncertainties.
For instance, right now Nancy and I are facing a harsher winter than either of us has ever experienced. We are in a motor home and tiny cabin, surrounded by the drifts of snow from the first of many winter storms. We won’t be able to drive the motor home out to dump its holding tanks so will have to occasionally use a camping toilet. Fortunately, the cabin has working (at the moment) plumbing into which we can dump the camping toilet. We won’t be able to fill the propane tank on the motor home so will have to rely on electric power, which can be iffy in the winter as well as expensive.
I report this, not to bemoan or complain. We are happy and content; actually excited and energized. It is just that our sense of vulnerability has deepened greatly. Of course, the fact of vulnerability hasn’t changed because we are all always vulnerable, but life now presents us with that fact in more face-to-face terms. As Brené Brown reports, when that happens we are led into the realm of joy, courage, gratitude, compassion, and love in ways we could never before have imagined.
As my life is being transformed by my journey into vulnerability and courage, I am saddened by the almost complete lack of vulnerability in our country’s leadership. We are frightened by the appearance of vulnerability in leadership because we are terrified of its reality in our own lives. Leadership capitalizes on this fear by cloaking itself in a mask of invulnerability and convincing us that it is strength. In reality it is just the opposite. It is the weakness of terrified children. Only by accepting and embracing our existential vulnerability can we possibly find the adult courage and creativity necessary for true transformation of our culture. Only thus can we free ourselves from manipulation that draws its power from our fear.
Perhaps, as we as individuals step into our own “courage to be,” we will stop looking to others to hide our fears. Perhaps, as we face the vulnerability of our lives and find that we have courage and strength beyond our expectations, we will no longer tolerate denial and pseudo-strength in leaders. Perhaps facing into a severe winter in simple surroundings is an act of political agitation. Perhaps facing whatever we face in life without denial is a political coup. Perhaps the “courage to be” is the most powerful act of revolution.