Could it be that... Health

Showing vulnerability is bravery inside out?


It is often taken to mean asking for help, but showing vulnerability is simply an act of finding ourselves and each other

A couple of years ago, for World No Tobacco Day, we asked doctors to tell us of their own experience with giving up smoking. Very few came forward to tell their stories, but those who did showed us that they were human, with their struggle to do better for themselves and their patients.

In work places, you’re often advised not to tell people of your weaknesses lest they get used against you. Even when you’re going through a tough time in life, the message from well-meaning family and friends, is to stay strong.

What if they told you that it was okay to openly acknowledge your fears, your weaknesses? That would mean we’d have to confront our innermost selves, look our ‘problem areas’ in the eye, and acknowledge that we are kind of like crustaceans: soft inside. It also means giving people a little bit of access to who we really are, beneath the thin veneer of polite conversation, and the harder shell of high work productivity.

At Imagine 2019, a day-long discussion forum centred around children, we had Dr Amit Sen, a psychiatrist from Children First, a child and adolescent mental health service that organised the event, speak about having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Later, a military doctor spoke about his unlearning of how he once thought things ought to be. When his child told him as an adult that she was a transperson, the erstwhile cut-and-dry military man had to re-examine his belief system and take a journey to calling his child ‘daughter’.

We heard from a child who’d run away from home at a tender age speak about dyslexia. He’d lived on the streets, and later found refuge in Salaam Baalak Trust that works with street children. We listened as Aditi Chaudhary (whose daughter wrote the book that inspired the movie The Sky is Pink) spoke about losing two children, her grief unspoken, but palpable. We were introduced to Arjun Mathur (the lead actor in Made in Heaven), who took us through the tragic accident his family was in, when he was a child, and the trauma he faced when his mother died as a consequence.

Every story spilled out some innards, opening the person out to us, showing us glimpses of intense pain. They were honest about the not-so-nice aspects of themselves and of family life, exposing their vulnerability — the other side of bravery.

Perhaps if people in powerful places told us of parts where it truly hurts, of open wounds and niggling emotional injuries, of mistakes they’d made and the struggle to do better, we’d all be gentler, because when we step off our pedestals of “doctor” or “leader” we are talking as fellow human beings. We are reaching out and tapping in to the listener’s empathy that often flows naturally.

Showing vulnerability is often taken to mean asking for help, but it is simply an act of revealing ourselves, of un-hiding aspects of our person, sometimes at the cost of a loss of other people’s professional belief in us. It is then that we begin to find ourselves and each other.

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Printable version | Dec 11, 2019 7:52:24 AM |

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