By Grace Donnelly
Updated: October 11, 2018 5:31 PM ET

Hello raceAhead readers! Grace here today filling in for Ellen.

We’ve talked about allies this week and some of the concrete tactics individuals can use to better support those who are different from them. But most of the advice for being a good ally comes down to your own ability to be vulnerable.

“Vulnerability is not weakness. And that myth is profoundly dangerous,” says Brené Brown, a researcher at the University of Houston who has studied the subject for years, in her TED Talk from 2012. In fact, she says, “Vulnerability is our greatest measure of courage…. [it] is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”

But before she began speaking and writing about vulnerability, she spent six years researching shame, which is often what keeps us from allowing ourselves to be vulnerable.

In her first TED Talk, The Power of Vulnerability, she describes shame as the fear of disconnection—the worry that who we really are keeps us from the love and belonging we seek.

“Shame is an epidemic in our culture,” she says. It’s the voice telling you that you aren’t enough.

Most of us push that voice down. Netflix’s series on puberty, Big Mouth, gives that voice a persona—the Shame Wizard—which, notably, all the characters believe only they can see.

We don’t want to discuss shame, but we can’t have many of the most important conversations without acknowledging it. It’s impossible to talk across difference, across inequity, without accepting that one (but more likely, all) of the parties involved have some sense of shame attached to the topic.

To make our workplaces, our lives, and our societies more inclusive, we need to confront shame, name it, learn to talk about it, and make the brave choice to be vulnerable anyway, Brown says.

Whether it’s shame that comes from growing up queer in a community that calls you unnatural, the shame that comes from battling a disease that’s sometimes only visible to you, or even the shame of privilege that triggers defensiveness when you try to reach for understanding, every human being capable of connection knows the feeling.

“To get out from underneath it, to find our way back to each other, we have to understand how it affects us, how it affects the way we’re parenting, the way we’re working, the way we’re looking at each other,” Brown says.

Take a look at #NationalComingOutDay and #WorldMentalHealthDay for examples from this week of people on the internet trading their shame for vulnerability.

And since no one’s struggle is confined to one day a year, make a daily practice of the courage it takes to name your own shame and share that strength with the community around you.

Ellen is back with Haiku Friday tomorrow, but I’ll leave you with the original definition of courage from Brown’s talk: To tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.


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