Posts Tagged ‘vulnerability’

I started my morning off with tears today, after hearing a terrorist attack in Kenya yesterday has left 147 students dead.  An interview with the father of one of the victims started it; he talked with his daughter late Wednesday night.  She asked for money and they chatted about her anxiety over upcoming exams.  She was killed the next day, in an exam prep class.  Her father saw pictures of bodies under desks, lying in pools of blood.  He recognized the red dress she was wearing.

Death comes for us all.  It cannot be escaped.  We cannot protect ourselves from it.  We are vulnerable.

I’m expecting condemnations of the attacks from world leaders and world citizens.  We’re going to talk a lot about al-Shabab (the responsible party) and terrorism and fanaticism.  I’m sure, in some quarters, debates with devolve into a bitter debate about Islam, Christianity and extremism.

These are worthy issues, issues which should be addressed and discussed.  But we can’t protect ourselves from everything.

We are all vulnerable.

When I was a kid, all I wanted was a trampoline.  My mom actually bought me one once (thanks Mom!) and was forced to take it back because my dad feared me breaking my leg.  My new favorite thing that I want (and WILL HAVE) is the sunken trampoline.  Instead of being 3-4 feet off the ground, a pit can be dug so the trampoline is level with the ground, ostensibly reducing the chance of injury.

Here’s the thing – legs break all the time, for all sorts of reasons.  I still ended up breaking a bone (for non-trampoline related reasons).  I’m sure a leg can still break from a ground-level trampoline.

We can protect ourselves, sort of.  But we can’t protect ourselves from everything.

Victim-blaming is a huge problem in the sexual-assault world (and all criminal justice stuff, really).  It comes from a place of fear.  We want to believe a victim brought it on themselves, so we can reduce our own fear, that existential knowledge that we’re all vulnerable, that bad shit happens, no matter what.  If we can believe that by wearing the right clothes, or living in the right neighborhood, or guarding our drinks, we can prevent crime, then we are less afraid.  If we can start believing the victim is to blame, then we don’t have to worry – we’re much smarter, much more prepared, than that person.

There is no universal protection.  We are all vulnerable.

I want to live the kind of life that is so full, so full of hope and joy and passion, that I am less afraid to die.  That’s the only thing we have control over – our behavior.  I want to know, if I died today, that I wouldn’t have grudges, or unfinished business, or deep regrets.  Because it can happen to anyone.  It can happen at any time.

Instead of reacting to Kenya’s tragedy with posturing, anger and fear, I want to react with love and compassion.  Feel grief with the parents and friends of those students, whose only crime was getting an education.  Feel the sadness, and rage, and hope that we can prevent these tragedies in the future.

We can.  We can respect each other, love each other.  We can react to the unexpected with a smile and a question rather than a frown and fear.  We can live a life that’s full.  We can know that the only cure for hatred is powerful love; not a passive, wimpy love – love burning with righteous anger while holding empathy and compassion for the lost souls who cannot feel anything but hatred and rage.

Today, my heart is in Kenya.

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The wonderful Brené Brown has recently released her newest book, Daring Greatly, which I am eagerly reading cover to cover.  As always, it sparks new motivation in me to continue analysis of all the messages we receive about worthiness.

Recently I’ve discovered part of my mental health involved not feeling worthy, or like a worthwhile person.  I think this is linked to our culture of achievement, the one that tells us we are what we do, the one that pushes us to believe what we do is never enough, the one that expects us to be perfect but not with effort, not with the work it takes to try and reach that (unattainable) level of “right.”

Weight loss is an obvious place we see this model writ large in our culture.  I’ve talked about the Biggest Loser, but it’s not only on reality television.  We hear it day in and day out, in tabloids, at our workplaces, at our gyms, with our families.  Almost without exception, it’s a congratulatory tone, praising willpower, praising the “finally made” decision to be thinner.

When one is faced with cultural values that do not fit with personal values, there are generally three big options.  You can ignore it, and pretend it isn’t there.  You can accept it, and strive to fit your values into the cultural framework.  You can reject it, creating values of your own (punk rock, amirite?  amirite, ladies?!).

The problem with creating your own unique value system is the kernel of positive focus in some of these cultural standards.  Achievement is a worthy goal – it’s at the top of the Maslow hierarchy of needs, it’s an essential part of Erikson’s developmental stages, and I know I personally feel validated and positive when I have concrete accomplishments to look at.  When my worth as a person is in question, because of failure or performing at a mediocre level, that becomes a problem.

If we’re only good for what we achieve, and weight loss is an achievement, no wonder we always feel worthless.  Most people who lose weight gain it back.  Adding healthy habits to a routine does not always add up to weight loss – our bodies are created to survive, and to hang on to fuel if there’s food scarcity.  Adding muscle can add to weight, or at least keep weight the same.

To be healthy and at a “non-ideal” weight is, in itself, vulnerable.  Constantly playing defense with the hours you exercise or the vegetables you eat does not lead to acceptance and peace – the need to prove yourself healthy can be discouraging, and keep that angry furnace alive and well.  Let’s start building up our shame resilience today; we know ourselves.  What other people know will always be incomplete and inaccurate.