For the past week, Tami and I have enjoyed listening to a taped lecture series entitled, The Power of Vulnerability, by Dr. Brene Brown. As a professor in Social Work who employs Grounded Theory Research on the subject of shame, Brown has brilliantly tapped into why people feel shame and how that drives their thinking and behaving. Her shame research has led her to address the subjects of guilt, compassion, empathy, and vulnerability. A major component of vulnerability is authenticity. Here’s what Brown says about authenticity.
Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we’re supposed to be [or who we think people want us to be] and embracing who we actually are.Choosing authenticity involves the following:
- Cultivating the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable.
- Expressing compassion that comes from knowing that we’re all made of strength and struggle.
- Nurturing the connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we believe that we’re enough.
- Authenticity demands wholehearted living and loving even when it’s hard… even when we’re wrestling with the shame and fear of not being good enough… and especially when the joy is so intense that we aren’t afraid to let ourselves feel it.
- Practicing authenticity during our most soul-searching struggles is how we invite grace, joy, and gratitude into our lives.
Authenticity is a popular buzzword today in organizations, businesses, and churches. As you can see from Brown’s extended definition, it’s one thing to claim authenticity and it’s another (hard) thing to actually live authentically.
Here’s where the Gospel comes in and allows us to live authentically. We are born with both dignity and depravity. We are created in God’s image, yet we’re sinful to the core. Jesus Christ willingly embraced all our depravity on the cross – we are pardoned slaves of sin. Not only that, but he grants us a more dignified status – we are adopted children of God and heirs with Jesus Christ.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). We are new creatures… free to be authentic, honest, compassionate, filled with gratitude and joy. The ‘shame-voices’ in our mind lose their grip and power as we live authentically in our new identity as redeemed children of God.
When your loved one shares a painful experience, do you try to lighten the moment?
When your loved one says they are upset with you, have you found yourself justifying your words or actions, only to have your partner or friend become more upset?
Despite your best intentions, you may be suffering from a lack of empathy. The following cartoon short from University of Houston researcher and Daring Greatly (2012) author Brené Brown’s RSA talk in 2013 explains the difference: Click to watch
Our brains are wired to run from pain—including emotional pain—whether it is ours or someone else’s. Brown points out in this video that empathy rarely starts with the words, “At least…” and that oftentimes, the best response is, “I don’t know what to say, but I am really glad you told me.” Fixing your loved one’s problem is not often what is needed, nor is it necessarily your job or even within your ability to do so. Sharing a listening, caring ear is something most people can do. When we feel heard, cared about, and understood, we also feel loved, accepted, and as if we belong.
In I Thought it Was Just Me (But It Isn’t) (2008), Brown references nursing scholar Theresa Wiseman’s four attributes of empathy:
- To be able to see the world as others see it—This requires putting your own “stuff” aside to see the situation through your loved one’s eyes.
- To be nonjudgmental—Judgment of another person’s situation discounts the experience and is an attempt to protect ourselves from the pain of the situation.
- To understand another person’s feelings—We have to be in touch with our own feelings in order to understand someone else’s. Again, this requires putting your own “stuff” aside to focus on your loved one.
- To communicate your understanding of that person’s feelings—Rather than saying, “At least you…” or “It could be worse…” try, “I’ve been there, and that really hurts,” or (to quote an example from Brown) “It sounds like you are in a hard place now. Tell me more about it.”
Brown explains that empathy is a skill that strengthens with practice and encourages people to both give and receive it often. By receiving empathy, not only do we understand how good it feels to be heard and accepted, we also come to better understand the strength and courage it takes to be vulnerable and share that need for empathy in the first place.
In short, empathy is different and better than sympathy because “empathy fuels connection; sympathy drives disconnection.”
Empathy… You’re going to have an opportunity to exercise it today. Give it your best shot!
On Saturday, September 12th from 6:00p-8:00p, we will be hosting an open house in the foyer/cafe to preview all of the upcoming women’s events for the fall. Please drop by, have a bite to eat and a drink while catching up with friends and touring our display booths. Each booth will offer you an opportunity to preview materials, sign up for various opportunities, and familiarize yourself with our upcoming events. We look forward to seeing you there!
Ellis Potter, an influential Christian Missionary in Europe encourages his congregants to ask 10 people who are not followers of Jesus these two questions.
If you converted to Christianity today, do you think your life would be larger, fuller, richer, more attractive and creative, more involved with the people, circumstances, art, & culture around you?
Or do you think your life would be smaller, narrower, more withdrawn, judgmental, and negative, less winsome and creative, less involved with the people, art, circumstances, & culture around you?
Were you to ask your neighbors these questions, your family or your friends, how do you think they would answer? Why would they answer that way? Who taught it to them? Francis Schaeffer once said,
As evangelical Christians we have tended to relegate art to the very fringe of life. The rest of human life we feel is more important. Despite our constant talk about the Lordship of Christ, we have narrowed its scope to a very small area of reality. We have misunderstood the concept of the Lordship of Christ over the whole of man and the whole of the universe and have not taken to us the riches that the Bible gives us for ourselves, for our lives, and for our culture. The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.
It seems that in our culture today many Christians are known for what they hate, rather than for what they love, for talking about what is evil, rather than celebrating what is good and praiseworthy.
The Bible makes clear that Jesus Christ is Lord over all aspects of life, including pop culture and art, and it is my belief that not only can we celebrate our partaking of art as entertainment, but that we can use it as a means of sharing the gospel with our family, friends, and neighbors.