Brené Brown — The Courage to Be Vulnerable
December 5, 2013

Courage is borne out of vulnerability, not strength. This finding of Brené Brown’s research on shame and "wholeheartedness" shook the perfectionist ground beneath her own feet. And now it’s inspiring millions to reconsider the way they live, parent, and navigate relations with members of the opposite gender.


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I have been a dedicated listener of this show for 6 years, it has always been a source of strength and incredibly important ideas and inspirations. But when I click to read about the program interviewing Brene Brown about vulnerability--sounds amazing!--and I read that her research is inspiring millions to reconsider the way they "navigate relationships with the opposite sex," I immediately get a jolt of nausea in my stomach. I navigate relationships with people of the same sex as me, and that does not make my relationships or my vulnerability any less worth examining. It may seem like a small piece of wording to you, but to me it means that your website is emotionally unsafe for me as a gay listener, and that I must again put my protective guard up to take in your program because I can plainly read that it was not intended for me.

Trent Gilliss's picture

Sara, thanks for your note and reminding us of the importance of language. Of course we didn't intend to exclude anyone, and I apologize for making you feel excluded. If you listen to the interview, though, I think you might read this language a bit differently -- from a point of gender rather than heterosexual or homosexual partnerships/relationships. Dr. Brown says that men and women experience vulnerability differently, and have much different cultural and societal pressures placed upon them when it involves shame and vulnerability. It's not so much about sexual orientation as it is about gender.

After six years of listening to our interviews, you obviously recognize the safe space we create, even when it can be uncomfortable for those of us who think differently from our guests. I would hope that perhaps you could give us the benefit of the doubt in this case rather than implying that we're trying to exclude you. We're not. I appreciate your point though and have updated the language to avoid confusion for other listeners who may read this as you do. Thank you for reaching out to us. And, most importantly, please listen to this show; it's a good one that is worth hearing.

Thank you so much for your attention, I have now listened to the INCREDIBLE program and I see how you would have come to that wording.
Thank you for the work that you do.

Dear Sara,

I commend you for being brave enough to face your feelings of vulnerability and listen to the show nonetheless, and also for your thoughtful reply after listening. You could have just turned away because you felt uncomfortable,, but you stayed with that discomfort and continued to engage in spite of it. That's what Brene is talkin' about. Well done, sister.

Hey Sara, you should go to Dr. Brown's book signings and tell her she doesn't mention homosexuals. If she says, "I don't study homosexuals," then you say, "Well, that's convenient..." And then go ahead and let out all your jolt of nausea on her. Don't blame On Being and say they're "emotionally unsafe." And instead of putting on your protective guard, you should embrace vulnerability because if you truly listened to the interview closely you would realize that struggle and vulnerability makes the person who they really are. So, share your insights with Dr. Brown about feeling left out instead. Who knows, she may consequently include homosexuality in her next book. Personally, I enjoyed the interview and the concept of vulnerability is indeed a spiritual awakening. The interview also reminds me of an earlier program where Ms. Tippett conveyed spirituality with vulnerability & sexuality.

Sara, keep the faith. I have a 47-year-old trans son who I love and adore and ADMIRE for his faith in himself and his community. I pray every day that our communities will begin an educational path towards understanding we are equal - no difference matters - our uniqueness is what is wonderful about each of us. I was just thinking today about the generation before me and the confusion that existed when people of color became so common, a minority that continued to increase in number and be as important as the "white, straight" forefatherswho did intend for Americans to be EQUAL. (Even Jesus loved ALL as equal.) As I have discovered my language/ vocabulary and intent of statement must adapt to include all the ones I matter what color, gender, inclination, etc. You are as important as the people the writer of the words was discussing....many of us just need to improve our vocabulary skills to show you that you are... gather your strengths about you....

I came here today hoping to listen to something that would keep me thinking about grace and gratitude on Thanksgiving. This has been wonderful, and has provided so much more than what I came here looking for. Brene Brown has such a gift with this subject matter and her power with storytelling speaks so directly to my own experiences around these challenging subjects. I can't thank you enough for such a profound conversation.

The last comment before the technical break about that man explaining vulnerability is dead on...My mother claimed I should do better academically than my older brother, a high school and college scholarship winner (in those days ADD and dyslexia weren't known), my wife of a quarter century asked me after my third downsizing/merger redundancy "What are you going to do about this?," and my daughter tells me that my tearing up by events (like watching a movie!) "freaks her out."

Envision these incidences as the pounding of a pile driver into a pier. Why bother showing vulnerability when such is the outcome?

I have heard Brene brown speak, and in her talk she did answer some questions about homosexuality and vulnerability. She spoke from the heart and was very clear that her belief is God loves everyone. She said that the vulnerability of being honest about something so personal as sexuality, when it isn't the accepted norm, is not easy.
Thank you for this interview!

Chris, I get it, especially the part about crying during commercials. Fortunately, my dad modeled that behavior for me and, while I was embarrassed in theaters with him as a kid, i now see him as being a profoundly courageous as a man. He was a model of personal integrity and it has given me the same freedom.

So, "why bother?". Bother because there is only one of you in this world and your authentic expression is priceless. Bother because the outcome isn't always about making others ok or happy. YOU are the very thing your daughter, your wife, your company needs, even if they don't always get it in the moment.

christopher (Chris ?) I fell in love with my husband so much more deeply when we watched a very touching movie early on and I saw him quietly take his glasses of and wipe his eyes. Tell your daughter I said she ought to look for a guy like dear old Dad. Don't let others define who you are.

I found the comment of "participating in patriarchy" somewhat unsettling.
Women don't create the gender roles men reinforce. Many women have struggled to be independent of them.
Here we are again still doing the work of their self-realization to be better partners in relationship with women, and taking the blame.
That Ms. Brown just realizes this in her " study" doesn't mean that other women did not already know what she " discovered" -

Kathleen, I hope you listened to the context in which that comment was made, too. It jolted me-- because I recognized the truth of it in myself. I struggled with and resisted gender definitions since a child growing up a religious culture that emphasized the so-callled "traditional" models for males and females (I was and remain a "tomboy"). I recognized the impact on me, and on my brothers, who struggled to meet the unrealistic demands placed on males by this division of emotional roles. Yet, as an adult and mother, I unconsciously played into many of those same expectations. Ah, not only was I a modern mother, I was a successful professional woman and community volunteer-- all the while maintaining my feminist independence. I was trying to be everything our society expects of both men and women. It took a serious life-changing illness to yank me out of that equally unrealistic scenario. I am grateful it did. But in the meantime, I'd managed to pass on the unrealistic role model I'd internalized. Yes, I was participating in patriarchy. Not only by being so fiercely independent that I let the men in my life off the hook, but by not acknowledging that they too were vulnerable and bound by roles they did not choose and felt trapped by. Only by accepting responsibiity for my being, and by willing to step out of my safety zone was I able to finally simply live my life unbound by expectations of perfection. No, life is not perfect. It isn't supposed to be. My children are making the same journey, and are wiser than I in many ways-- perhaps because they struggled through some of life's obstacles early. As for me, I still have the chronic illness, which limits me somewhat physically, yet I live a much more satisfying, productive life and feel much more fulfilled personally, because all I can do is do what I can and let the rest go.

Thank you for responding.
I never intended to imply that men are not subjected to unwanted gender roles. But since they gained the most privilege from them should't more of them work to end them? " where is the introspection, research and self awareness of their being " trapped by gender roles" by their own gender? What is their collective response to Ms. Brown's research findings?

Without question men have certainly had access to more priveledge and freedoms than women throughout history, and this was, is, and continues to be a great injustice. But maybe maybe take some time and consider the costs as well. You can't profit from injustice and walk away unscathed and I believe Brené Brown hit it on the head when she described the consequences of male vulnerability. It's cute and endearing to a point, but when it moves into the territory of exhibiting weakness or even worse powerlessness, as she said, it's repulsive.

Our experience as men confirmed this at a very early age. And in an age where 1 in 6 males are sexually abused before the age of 16, the need for vulnerability and weapons to combat shame are that much more necessary. This was a powerful message for both genders and I hope that everyone would have the same response that Brené described in herself...looking in the mirror and talking responsibility for our part in keeping our brothers and our sisters and ourselves locked up in shame.

May we all come to love with our whole hearts.

I loved the quote on being kind. Could you please post it with the source? Thank you. Mary

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. -Philo

This was such an amazingly beautiful and difficult interview to listen to. I had to pause the interview multiple times just to weep and let the gravity of what Brene was talking about sink in. Thank you for this interview, Krista and Brene. I have a deep amount of respect and admiration for the both of you.

Have listened to the 1st 35 minutes of this and am fairly dumbfounded by how relevant this is for me. Thanks On Being folks and Brene Brown. More later ...

Listening to Brené for the first time. I am a Latina visual artist working on many similar issues and along my journey I came to the same discovery in 2006. As women, we are mostly responsible for raising our own boys to become a better more vulnerably aware grown men. No shame starts at home were Moms, Grandmas and Aunts "rule".

I hadn't read the teaser about "navigating relationships" because if I had, I might not have listened to the show this morning. I would have feared that the show was going to be some lame self-help crap. Instead, listening to the show made me realize it was a lot more. As a fellow academic and high achiever who over the course of one year was diagnosed with a chronic illness, death of a mentor, illness of close family member, and the loss of a career through unethical circumstances carefully engineered by people who claimed to be on my side, I was struck by the parallels to my own life: that the only way I recovered hope and trust in myself and others and regain my belief in myself was by accepting how vulnerable I was - to physical illness, institutional politics, and fear. One of the more wonderful interviews I've heard on this show lately.

I don't listen every week, but this morning something compelled me to turn on the radio & listen to On Being. Once I started listening, it was as if someone had finally turned on the lights in the room. After more than 20 years of therapy & a place of being "stuck," Brene's observations about vulnerability went to the core of my being. I have so much reading & reflecting to do, but thank you, Brene, for showing me the way, and thank you, Krista for introducing this amazingly astute and brave woman to me. I believe that your conversation this morning got me back on a path of self-awareness after wandering a bit aimlessly over the past few years.

This interview blew my mind. In retrospect, these ideas might seem obvious, but sometimes you need a clear thinker like Brene to get you to look at your own life at the kitchen table. And a great interviewer to bring them to the fore. Thank you both so much.

The show today with Brene Brown was incredibly thought provoking. It unlocked doors for me that I believed had no keys.
Thank you for this incredible opportunity to hear someone so full of knowledge and wisdom. All she expressed was so relevant to us all.

Dr. Brown's studies and words of wisdom are a reality test for those whi think macho toughness is the only way to confront the conflicts, challenges inevitable to living a full life.

Much thanks, especially offered on the holiday we call...Thanksgiving.

Bravo to you and your staff.

Maybe a therapy session. Vulnerability? All I could think of while I listened was 'social anxieties', living with the fear of criticism or of being judged in a negative way.

This resonated with me so deeply--I feel I need to connect with Dr. Brown.

Interesting that this show pushes different buttons for many commenters. Mine was about the impact of motherhood -- you don't have to be a parent to be changed by relationship with others.

Part of patriarchy's result is to rate women's usefulness based on whether we will, can, have, or want to procreate. A few hours after listening to the show, I want to go back and listen again. Did I really hear that mothers understand something that nobody else can? Or was that my projection?

Thanks for this excellent and thought-provoking show.

I write this as a fan of On Being, and as someone who enjoyed and shared Brene Brown's TED talk on vulnerability with colleagues and friends when it was first shared on the website several weeks ago. That being said, after listening to this show, I felt compelled to point out some glaring flaws that I noticed, both in Dr. Brown's research and in the way the conversation was contextualized and directed by Mrs. Tippett.

As I listened to this conversation, I found myself increasingly perplexed by the "insights" and "wisdom" that Dr. Brown had learned through her research. I was perplexed because much of these insights seemed quite obvious to me, and so I could not understand why these realizations had apparently been so hard won or difficult to access for Dr. Brown. Eventually I realized the difference - I am a woman of color and Dr. Brown and Mrs. Tippett are not. As such, I had not been shielded from confronting feelings of shame and vulnerability in the way that Dr. Brown and Mrs. Tippett clearly have been. Moreover, because I have had to face such experiences on an ongoing basis, I have learned from a relatively early age much of the resilience and insights that were seemingly so hard won for Dr. Brown and Mrs. Tippett later in life.

Dr. Brown mentioned at one point that she realized she was in error for omitting the male experience from her research. I hope that my criticisms which follow will lead her to realize that she has also made a critical error in omitting the experiences of people of color from her research. Had she included their experiences, she may have learned far earlier than when she finally did something of the wisdom, creativity, and resilience of a people who have faced vulnerability for generations due to ongoing racism and oppression. This omission then is a very large missed opportunity for her and the public at large to engage in a more critical and nuanced examination of American culture, especially the phenomenon of white privilege and how it operates within the lives of white people and people of color.

Dr. Brown became very emotional when talking about shame and specifically pointed to the messages embedded in shame such as - "You're not good enough," "Who do you think you are?" and "You are nothing." People of color in the United States have been contending with these kinds of messages for literally hundreds of years now. Shame is absolutely nothing new to the experience of a person of color in the United States. On quite the opposite hand, resisting the ongoing onslaught of overt and covert messages designed to shame people of color is merely a normal part of our daily existence. Every single day I and every person of color must contend with subtle and overt messages about what it means to be successful or attractive in the United States, or more pertinently, who is capable of being successful and attractive. Dr. Brown mentioned standards of beauty as a source of shame for women, particularly contemporary standards of beauty, but for women of color such standards of beauty have always been unattainable. Even now it is still not the norm to see people of color depicted as successful and attractive in the media, especially if they are women of African descent with dark skin and natural hair. If Dr. Brown intends to become an expert on vulnerability and shame as it relates to the experiences of women, then she is obligated to find and watch a copy of the film "Dark Girls." I know of no other film that addresses with such brutal and heart-wrenching honesty the psychological damage inflicted upon women who are unable to attain the American standard of beauty.

In discussing how one raises resilient children, Dr. Brown mentioned that "people" often make the mistake of trying to raise their children in a bubble of safety and protection designed to shield them from more difficult realities. It is clear to me from her context that the people that she refers to are white people, as there is not a single parent of color that I know of, particularly African American, Latino, and Arabic parents, who has not had a conversation with their children about what it means for them to be a young person of color in the United States. If their children are male, such conversations start particularly early. Far from shielding their children from such unpleasant realities, people of color have recognized for generations that revealing such unpleasant realities is a necessary part of child-rearing - their children's safety and lives depend on them knowing how to operate within a white world that still fears and vilifies them. Parents of color, regardless of their wealth, have never had the means to protect their children from the uncertainty and adversity that comes with not having white skin and the white privilege it confers in the United States of America.

Dr. Brown also discussed the link between struggle and creativity, and here again the inclusion of the experiences of people of color in her research sample could have been enriching. Despite generations of oppression, African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, and other people of color have continued to excel in the creative and performing arts, and while some have attempted to diminish the meaning or significance of that success, Dr. Brown's research begins to show that this success may very well be because of rather than in spite of the ongoing struggles and difficulties faced by people of color.

Dr. Brown also mentioned the link between a strong sense of hope and the experience of struggle. As a woman of color, I immediately thought of Dr. King and the many civil rights leaders and activists of color over the centuries who have embodied this connection. That none of this was mentioned in the course of this aspect of the discussion I found to be a particularly glaring and unfortunate error on the part of Dr. Brown and Mrs. Tippett.

Dr. Brown discussed that living a full life involves the willingness to be afraid and brave on a daily basis. When people of color get together in a safe space to discuss what it is like to work and live in the white world of the United States, especially young men of color, this idea is often at the heart of what is discussed - the fear and stress that comes with having to face microaggressions from white people, or from getting stopped by a cop for walking or driving in the 'wrong' part of town, or from feeling that one is responsible for representing their entire race well when interacting with others of another race, or from wondering if they were passed over for recognition because of their race. The stress and fears that people of color experience from confronting these issues on an ongoing basis are very real, and that we continue to face such conditions on a daily basis in order to work towards our goals on behalf of ourselves and our families speaks to the bravery that people of color must engender within themselves to continue to live and work in the United States. This is not a reality that white people have access to as revealed by Dr. Brown's conversation, and I believe that this is why this particular insight was especially novel and interesting for her. If, however, Dr. Brown had spent a meaningful amount of time engaged with people of color and their experiences, she could have gained a much deeper insight into what it means to live that contradiction as daily reality.

Finally, as an anti-racist activist and educator, I am particularly interested in what Dr. Brown's research might lend to the kind of work that I do since I find her research to be particularly revelatory about some of the deeper psychological aspects at work in the idea of "whiteness" and white privilege. She mentioned that people need to be able to hold a vulnerable space with each other in order to foster real relationships and connections, and that for many [white] people this is quite difficult. Anti-racist activists of all colors are all too familiar with the truth of her statement. White people often have an inordinate amount of difficulty in being able to be vulnerable and honest with people of color when having conversations about racism. I believe this is so because they simply do not know how to effectively handle and confront the guilt and shame that they experience when they are forced to confront white privilege, to accept their complicity in benefiting from that privilege, and to accept that society is as unjust and painful for people of color as they say it is. This resistance to psychological vulnerability is a very real impediment to making further inroads in the fight for equity and civil rights, and I believe that Dr. Brown's research when combined with critical race theories could prove to be a valuable tool in helping white people to develop a deeper understanding of and solidarity with people of color such that they are able to become effective anti-racist allies.

I do not know if my critiques will reach either Mrs. Tippett or Dr. Brown, but it is my sincere hope that they do, and that both will take the time to stay with their vulnerability, and to think critically about what I have shared in this post.

Ms. Allen

I don't know if your comments will help Dr. Brown, but they sure helped (or are helping) me. As a whilte woman from a priviledges background, I could completely relate to Dr. Brown's messages on vulnerability. I believe that white people of a certain economic status can live their entire lives without confronting their vulnerability -- at least not until facing their death. I think that is why Dr. Brown's message is so powerful to me. Why I loved and appreciated your comments is that it reminded me that not everyone has that same experience. I have a very good friend who is white, but is married to a latino man, and they have three children together. She and her family confront the very things that you talked about in your comments. I know that I have not done a good job of "creating a space" for her to talk about these things with me. Now I finally understand why talking about the racism she and her family face has been so hard for me. Most of the time, when she brings it up, I just want the conversation to get over quickly -- or I discount the severity of what she is saying in my head. I know she senses this and, frankly, has probably given up on talking with me about the subject. Your comments have helped me to understand why I have such a problem with fully "going there" with her. It is exactly as you said -- the inability to handle the guilt and shame of white privilege, to accept that my own complicity in benefiting from that privilege, to accept that society is as unjust and as painful for people of color as they say it is. I would add that, for me, it is also the fear of losing the benefit or status of white privilege. What would happen to me without this shield of protection? I don't know where this fear of losing status exactly fits in, but I know that it is affecting me some how. So I just wanted to thank you for pointing me in the right direction. I don't know if I will have the courage to actually go in that direction, but at least now I'll know why I'm not going there.

Tamara, thanks for your honesty in stating your fear of losing your white privilege. I agree that this is an important part of what often prevents white people from fully "going there" as you put it, though few might admit it as readily as you have. I think that at least part of the fear of losing white privilege comes from a limited understanding of what white privilege actually entails. Indeed, there is privilege as the name implies, but there is also deficit and pathology as well, and this is a particularly under-explored and unappreciated aspect of what has been called "whiteness" or white privilege. Tim Wise is the only popular white anti-racist activist that I know of who has spent some time exploring the idea that white privilege confers harm as well as benefit, and I believe that it is crucial that anti-racist educators of all colors expand the rhetoric around white privilege to reveal these hidden harms. I believe that it is only when white people come to appreciate the harm that is being done to them because of this so-called "privilege" that they will become more willing to let it go.

Peggy McIntosh speaks of the "invisible knapsack" - the hidden benefits of white privilege. There is also, however, what I refer to as the "glass cage" - the hidden harms of white privilege. Much of Dr. Brown's research reveals these hidden harms - decreased psychological resilience, a narrowing of one's emotional life, reduced efficacy in communication, an increased sense of isolation, and often overwhelming fears of failure which trigger maladaptive and neurotic behavior. While these issues are certainly not unique to white people, I do believe that such issues are much more dominant in the lives of white people when compared to people of color because of the limits imposed on them by whiteness and white privilege.

It is essential that we all recognize that racism is a system which dehumanizes everyone who is a part of the system, oppressed and oppressor alike. We tend to focus only on the harms to the oppressed for obvious reasons, but it is a mistake to ignore that the perpetrators of oppression, most of whom are unwittingly coerced into becoming oppressors through socialization into "whiteness", are also harmed. The Milgram Shock Experiments is one study that highlights the clear and serious psychological harm done to those who are consciously coerced into participating in an immoral act by an authority figure. I think that many white people do not realize the extent to which they are subconsciously harmed by their participation in an immoral and racist system.

To that end, instead of focusing on the loss to your friend by your reticence to "go there", a convenient defensive emotional stance adopted by the privileged, you should focus instead on your own loss, and consider who suffers the greater loss because of your reticence. There is so much that you will not learn because of your unwillingness to "go there" with your friend. Yes, there is guilt and shame to be had, but also a profound feeling of intimacy, compassion, empathy and connection - the emotions and experiences at the core of being fully human. Your friend already has access to this through her relationship with her husband. The greater loss then in all of this is not hers - it is yours.

Well, Dr. Allen, I certainly hope Krista and Dr. Brown do read your post, ultimately. I confess that the perspective that people of color might have on vulnerability had not occurred to me -- and since I'm Caucasian, I think that only exemplifies further exactly what you're talking about. A white person like me might not think immediately about someone of color having a very different, and more open, experience with vulnerability because I haven't had the same experiences with fighting racism each day. I'm awfully glad I was reading other people's comments about the interview with Dr Brown, and especially yours, though, because I think this is exactly the type of conversation I wish we could have more often about racism and inequality. These ugly truths won't go away unless we all acknowledge them and discuss them honestly. (True also for discrimination against same-sex couples, as some other commenters have indicated.) I agree with every point you've made here. Very well said.

Thank you so much for your comments. A truly valuable addition.

Dear Ms. Allen

I, too, am a woman of color (African American), and a fan as well of "On Being." In fact, I have been listening to Krista Tippett's show before it was changed to "On Being." I write to commend you on your magnificent response to Dr. Brené Brown's conversation with Ms. Tippett about shame and vulnerability and how these concepts should be understood relative to the lives of people of color. It is the overlooking or "benign negligence" in including the lives and experiences of people of color in these discussions that brings into high relief the prevailing truth that we still have a lot of work to do in racial matters; we have not yet overcome and we have not yet moved into a "post-racial" neighborhood. Your well-wrought points about how the struggle with shame and vulnerability stand is an ongoing and difficult one resonated deeply for me as an African American and Christian woman. There is no useful blueprint or set of guidelines for people such as myself who must try on their own to reconcile religious teachings with the attitudes of a still-dominant white culture that either tacitly or openly declares that people of color have every reason to be feel shame and to be vulnerable. Your citing of the term "microaggressions," one which I encountered in the book "Whistling Vivaldi, was also significant, in that it powerfully underscores the pernicious tyranny of subtle racism. The radar of people of color, I would argue (and I think you would agree), is always in the "up" position; we never feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable because we are already vulnerable. At the same time, white people are loath to relinquish their need to have power and control for fear of being vulnerable to the people of color whom they continue to hold in varying degrees of contempt. Only when they can confront this truth will there be any possibility for both groups to interact without fear, guilt or shame and to give full expression to their humanity.

I guess this is pretty late in the game to comment, but I think these comments merit stating.

I am white and I am not a racist. Because like Dr. King said, I judge people on their integrity and character and not the color of their skin. I can disagree with a black person because I disagree with them, same as anyone else of any other color I might disagree with. Besides, Dr. King is one of my role models - now there was a man of character and integrity!

I completely agree that a life of daily struggle such as you describe can be fertile soil for developing resilience. There are also a lot of other possible outcomes that were not explored in these comments, and certainly was outside the scope of the talk. I am empathetic to the plight of those who are wrongfully oppressed and shamed and dehumanized. I denounce such things and I speak out about such things. Much as it might shock people, I can relate. It means that I (the white woman) am willing to listen to your story of what it is like to be a black woman in North America. It is your story - it is intensely personal. You are entitled to tell it and if I am going to have the honor of listening then it should be from a place of trying to understand where you are coming from, and to see the meaning and the feeling behind the words to catch the full picture.

But don't stomp all over Dr. Brown's personal story and professional work. But it is not okay to lash out at other people, particularly when they are being vulnerable, because their story plays on your own insecurities. In this case racial issues or the neglect of them seems to be the insecurity at play. I personally think that when we stop being offended about feeling excluded we have really made peace with ourselves and fully believe that 'we are enough'. Then we don't worry about what others think or say about us or neglect to say about us. And then we can bring our full authentic selves to the moment and we can stop and fully appreciate others for who they are and what they have to contribute. Just because you figured some of this stuff about vulnerability out long ago doesn't mean that someone else's story is any less powerful, any less authentic, any less daring. We each have our own story. We each have our own journey. We each learn different lessons at different times in our lives. And certainly she doesn't want your sympathy for her unfortunate privileged white upbringing - "o you poor white girl that everyone treated with kit gloves..." type commentary. She wants your empathy - your statements that you've been there, you get it, you know about vulnerability and all the pain and strength that it brings... type commentary. That's the whole point she is trying to make. That's the place she is inviting us to go to - it's a messy, out-of-control, sometimes painful place - but it is also where the real business of living happens and where real connection happens. It is where we discover that we are not as different as we thought, that on the inside we all look the same and we all have the same needs for love and belonging, and the same things that hurt your feelings also hurt mine. And that's when the magic happens, when I see you for who you are, and not as some stereotype of what "people like you" are like. When I really see you, and you really see me. And that's the whole point, that her work about shame, and vulnerability, and connection is universal - it doesn't matter if you are black or white or yellow or red - because it applies to all of us, as human beings.

I take issue with this "obvious" stuff. Do you have any idea of the research methodology of qualitative research? It is, after all, research, and one of the fundamentals of science is to get a representative sample. Do you not think that her sample would have included people of all races, socioeconomic backgrounds, etc. Sometimes these "microaggressions" are imagined slights.
Have you considered that her research is pioneer work in the scientific community? Had you considered the incredible risk and cost to her personally to do this work? Had you considered that because of her willingness to dare and to be vulnerable in sharing on a wide forum, this important work now has the potential to influence everything from parenting to economics to education to racial dynamics to poverty? And that if this was put into practice we could raise a whole generation of kids who are resilient, creative and see people for who they really are? Had you considered that because there is scientific backing for these "obvious" concepts, in a culture where everything has to have proof that it works (oh we love certainty), that it gives the movers and shakers of our world the evidence they need to influence public policy and government decisions so that we will collectively put our money where our mouths are? If it was all so obvious, why didn't someone else put it in writing first? Do you know that you can't get your Ph.D. if your work is not 100% new and original and never been done before? Do you have any idea what coding her data by hand would mean? The hours and hours of work, the challenge of pulling patterns and themes coherently out of over a thousand stories you have collected? But that is the thing with good science and communicating it well - it is elegant and straightforward, but then to those who don't know how much sweat and tears and elbow grease it cost tosses it aside as 'obvious', 'logical', 'common sense'. You know what it sounds like to the person on the receiving end of these comments: "Why would you waste 12 years of your life studying that? Your work is not important enough for me to take seriously." And lastly, the information a scientist communicates to the public is often just the tip of the iceberg, because it makes it accessible and practical for people. But if you read their academic publications you are often astounded by the depth and complexity of their work.


Carin --

The shape of your argument is interesting and, to me, disturbing:

1. I'm not racist -- I'm on your side.
2. You're being too negative -- stop it.
3. You're really ignorant about the issues -- you don't know what you're talking about.

Maybe you'll never see this comment, but if you do, please, please, please, go watch some videos and read some books by Tim Wise.

Ms. Allen- 'these insights seem quite obvious to me" -? I taught public school where all of my black students qualified for 'free lunch.' There were no white students in this segregated neighborhood in Wash.DC Many of them were strong, brave and comfortable in their skin! .They were creative, fun and open to life. Some were encouraged to come to school because after school they put on uniforms and went out on 'Rat Patrol' to help solve the rat problem in their neighborhood. I remember on student who was tardy some days because he had to chain his bike to the radiator before he came to school.

I had a different response than Sara, although I too am lesbian. The tenor of your conversation with Brown was very upsetting to me because it CLEARLY seemed clueless about those people, like myself and many many others, who did NOT suffer in any way from having "overprotective" parents and quite the contrary, who grew up in a nightmare. What about the kids in the inner city, growing up amidst the carnage of guns and drugs? What about those like myself and many others suffering the ravages of intense child abuse (a state of being that, as far as I am aware, has not ceased) and as a result walk around in a state of fear a good deal of the time in a society that, I can assure you, DOES NOT want to listen to any of us talk about the realities we live with day to day. In short, your conversation was one geared to economically and emotionally privileged people without EVER acknowledging this fact. And in having such a conversation you left out many many people who remain marginalized. I don't believe that was your intent, but that was how it felt to me. I was reminded of lyrics to Springsteen's "Born in the USA" as I listened to what felt to me like your conversation disconnected from many people's realities: "Til you end up like a dog that's been beat too much/spend half your life just covering up/Born in the USA/I was Born in the USA/I'm a long gone daddy in the USA." Springsteen's songs always spoke to me, although we live very different lives because I feel like he tells the truth about growing up in the USA, and because he doesn't have some overarching theory like Ms. Brown, that he thinks he can apply to all of us.

I was heartened to hear Krista’s discussion with Dr. Brown on the subject of being vulnerable, especially since, in the latter half of the interview, I heard that a self-exploration of fear and shame might actually apply to me, a latter-middle-aged man. (Halleluah. Love is not a victory march.) I only lament that a discussion on young boys and their vulnerability wasn’t included in Dr. Brown’s discussion; socially, educationally, and spiritually boys are being left behind at an alarming rate, even as girls and women advance. What I usually hear from orthodox feminists—among whom I don’t include Dr. Brown—is a celebration of the End of Men. As if there’s justice in that notion. A discussion on vulnerability that includes men serves the higher goals of feminism. So, on that point, Dr. Brown, I say bravo.

This might be a bit much. But I'm listening to it today and thinking about us and our company and meeting up soon, and it resonated. So thought I'd share. The TED talk is a condensed version, a little less time commitment than the interview.

Talk to you soon!

I'm with you Sara. But the idea that brought me here was the assertion that *men* aren't allowed to be vulnerable in relationships. I don't think the problem is that many women don't want *men* to be vulnerable, but that many women aren't strong enough to allow their partner, irrelevant of their partner's gender, to be vulnerable. I've found that both in romantic relationships and friendships with other women, many women want to be vulnerable, but don't want the other person male or female to show weakness.

I have been a faithful listener for ... I dont even know how many years now, six or seven? I set my alarm clock on Sunday mornings at 7am so I can listen to this show. This year's interviews have been amazing, life-changing, and sometimes disturbing (in a good way!). Today, though, might be the most jarring program of them all. I think I will have to go back and listen to this program at least 10 times before I can absorb all the wisdom. It was like listening to the Dalai Lama, Pema Chodron, Thich Naht Hahn, Desmond Tutu, Rumi, Theresa of Avila, my therapist, my priest, my mother, and my best friend all distilled into one voice. And I did not like what they were saying, but I knew if I care at all about myself and my fellow humans, I must listen. And I must change. Thank you. What a great meditation to take into Advent.

I want to thank Krista Tippett and for posting the unedited interviews that Krista conducts with her guests. I have two reasons for this gratitude:

First, I really feel like I get to "know" the guest a little better. I hear the banter, off-the-cuff remarks and extra stories that don't make it into the produced one-hour radio version of the interview. It is a richer experience for me.

Second, they don't edit out the technical difficulties. This week's show with Brene Brown had a major technical issue right in the middle of it. As a pastor who leads a weekly worship service that all-too-often suffers some sort of glitch, it's liberating (and in a twisted way, even encouraging) to get to listen in while pros try to solve unanticipated malfunctions. (Of course, the listener never hears the glitches on the produce show. That is part of the point of producing a finished show.)

I recommend "OnBeing" to everyone. It's a thought-provoking and kind conversation about the big questions in life.

I recognize someone here who has learned about surrender. This takes lots of courage, but is essential for real spiritual development. And THANK YOU, On Being, for being courageous (and vulnerable) enough to pursue the real deal.

As a man I was very grateful for Rene's realization that men suffer as much as women from shame. As a facilitator for a group of Catholic men who have regularly met for the last 16 years on Saturday mornings, I can attest to how important is for men to have a safe place to be authentic. I've heard from more than one wife about how their husband's participation in this group has changed the way their husband relates to them. On a personal note, I learned from a mental health therapist that if I could be vulnerable in discussing important matters with my wife, in all likelihood she would be willing to open up and trust me in response. While it was not easy (and sometimes painful), we are now at a place of athuenticity and love in our marriage that 20 years ago I never would have envisioned. Finally, all one has to do is look to the life of Jesus to understand how vulnerability and love are so closely interrelated when the Creator of the universe became one of us as a totally helpless infant, and then allowed himself to be mocked, abandoned, beaten and crucified in order to allow us to share eternity in the loving presence of the Trinity. It doesn't get any more loving or vulnerable than that. One other thing I've noticed over the past 20 years - many men are sad (and exhausted trying to live up to the macho man image) and many women are angry (and exhausted trying to live up to being superwomen). It's really a shame (no pun intended). If we could learn to give up our masques and be real, we all would be so much more content with ourselves and others. Blessings to all of you for a wonderful program and ministry.

Excited to have some time tonight to listen to this interview with Brene Brown. I must admit, however, that I was disappointed to read the text that introduced the interview on your website, the final line of which states ... "And now it’s inspiring millions to reconsider the way they live, parent, and navigate relations with members of the opposite gender." As a non-heterosexual woman, surely the brilliant, compassionate and insightful work of Brene is also applicable to myself as well as all people regardless of whether our navigations are with members of the opposite or same gender.

In closing, thank you for making this incredible interview available. I will continue to follow your valuable work.

Warm regards,

This talk helped with one of the most gratifying "breakthrough" moments of many months. I have been on a 4-month leave of absence from my work as a psychotherapist, resting and reviewing recent life events and attempting to figure out how to avoid the kind of "lifeless" living that created my current health predicament—melanoma cancer. In the span of 5 years between another difficult event, a traumatic brain injury, and this recent cancer diagnosis, I had started a private practice, given two very personal talks about my brain injury to conference attendees, created a 10-minute video for one of these talks, and started a blog called The Expert Within about healing though cultivating and connecting with inner wisdom. I had worked to the point of exhaustion, wanting to make my life and it's attendant adversities mean something. Now that I needed to carefully sort out where to put my energy, I looked at my work with clients, my creative ventures, and my attempts to communicate about important alternative healing methods, and nothing spoke to me because nothing seemed to have spoken to others (on any grand scale). Even as I write this, I see that I was viewing the mixed feedback through a perfectionist lens, one of many characteristics which Ms Brown listed as signs of her own difficulties with vulnerability.

I had a sense that I needed to disconnect my sense of satisfaction in my projects from other's feedback, but didn't know how to do it. The take-away message from the unedited interview with Ms Tippett and Ms Brown is that life's joys come from this very disconnection, which in turn comes from positive self-regard. And self-regard comes with practice. When I love, I tell myself I am love. When I write, I tell myself I'm worthy of being heard. When I speak my truth in front of a large group without trying to defend against criticism, I tell myself that my truth has merit, even if it is not a match for what most people think. When I create art which doesn't garner much excitement from others, I'm only doing what all artists do—working without guarantees of success, but, instead, from the pure joy of creating.

As others commented, it's the unedited version of this podcast which allowed for the depth and exploration of personal experience of the two which allowed me this breakthrough. You have my greatest gratitude and respect.

I love the show, I loved this show. I listened to the podcast and the unedited interview and will read the twitter thing I just saw. I'll read the book.
However,as a middle aged physician with many elderly patients, I sucked in my breath a bit at the use of the phrase 'aging badly'.
It seems that aging and illness are two major sources of shame and vulnerability in our culture despite the reality that we will all eventually 'fail' at being healthy and staving off death. In the end, now matter how much of our own work we've done, how vulnerable we've been, how wholeheartedly we've lived, we are all susceptible to being eaten 'from the inside out.' And we live in a culture that blames and shames us if we happen to be so unlucky. Our allergy to vulnerability is no more obvious than in how we deal, or don't, with aging and the often inevitablity of illness. To me that we even talk about aging well or poorly is an indication of our fear of this ultimate vulnerability.

I too was intrigued by Krista touching on this issue. I too am a middle aged (65) physician. First I was stroke by the reference to aging as being 40's. I have watched the trajectories of professionals over time and it is true that by the mid 40's some people hit a wall. They stop growing. I am not sure that I agree with Brene that people make a conscious decision here. At the same time I think her observations on the nature of that wall reflect a challenge to address the restrictive roles we find ourselves in and the challenge to find our souls. As a geriatrician I was expecting to hear more about ageing in the context of my day to day work as Kate addresses. The acceptance of aging and the ability to find joy in ageing in spite of the adversities is crucial to ageing well. This requires the acceptance of vulnerability. In my small sample of one physician's lifetime in medicine there Is a gender difference here although great individual variations. I have started to collect poems related to ageing and there is a genre I call "In spite of poems" which reflect this acceptance and the courage to live well. Patricia Goodman's "Riding the Reptile with Amy at Jungle Jim's Water Park" is a shining example of this. Kate raise this issue of shame which is major issue for people in our society now with the advancing epidemic of dementia. It is a real barrier as we wrestle with the question early diagnosis. It takes immense courage to face the increasing vulnerability of this syndrome. I was fortunate to learn early in my career the power of exposing my own vulnerabilities to medical students. They often suffer from 'the imposter syndrome'. To understand that their mentors have struggled with challenges, second guessing themselves and failures allows them the freedom to take risk and to care for themselves. With patients and with colleagues I often point out that the hardest person to forgive is ones self.

Adoration, solidarity, prize, do not unify folks as much as a general hatred just for one thing.


Voices on the Radio

Brené Brown is Research Professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. Her books include: The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.

Production Credits

Host/Producer: Krista Tippett

Executive Editor/Chief Curator: Trent Gilliss

Technical Director/Producer: Chris Heagle

Senior Producer: Lily Percy