38. The Second Step

Good morning and welcome to your thirty-eighth meditation. There is a narrative that has existed for a long time that says that we should silently, stoically endure whatever hardships life throws at us. It tells us that to be vulnerable is to be weak, and what’s worse, it makes us appear weak to others. According to this line of thinking, candour about one’s own vulnerability is like an open invitation to the world to trample us. To take advantage of us and to hurt us. And so, the argument goes, to protect ourselves, we shouldn’t reveal when we are hurt, or uncomfortable. 

In more recent times, an opposing narrative has gained authority in the popular discourse. It tells us that to be vulnerable is to be strong. That in order to overcome, or at least manage, our personal struggles, we need to acknowledge what they are and confront them; not pretend as though they weren’t there. 

Without doubt, as is evidenced in episode 29 Strong Enough to be Vulnerable, this podcast subscribes more to the latter school of thought. But perhaps the first view can offer us something of value as well, even if we reject the premise that it is bad or weak to be vulnerable. It is true, after all, that there is a risk involved in openly acknowledging your vulnerabilities. Not to say you shouldn’t do it. You should! Only that you should be careful not to take it too far. That you don’t indulge your pain, your discomfort, your affliction. That you don’t think about them, and talk about them so much that you come to identify with them, so that they dominate your consciousness and you forget that this acknowledgement is only half of the equation. It is not enough to simply say “I am an anxious person”, for example. Identifying that you suffer from anxiety may be helpful as an explanation for why you feel or behave in a certain way, but it is only the first step. The next step is where you do the real work of establishing habits that help you deal with, and perhaps even overcome, whatever it is you are struggling with.So what can be the consequences of failing to move beyond that first step of acknowledgement? We can turn into chronic complainers, convinced that it is our fate to be the gilted, the afflicted party. The underdog. In this way we become our own worst enemy because we resign ourselves to failure, to hurt, to unhappiness. We relinquish our agency, assuming that we are simply subject to the will of forces beyond our power. We think things are always being done to us, or that we are just that way, and take no responsibility for our own power to effect change. And this apathetic, victimized attitude almost inevitably results in discontent. So next time you find yourself thinking about, or discussing things that you struggle with in life, be careful not to wallow. Remember to take the second step. Take the reins. See what you can do to improve the situation, and form positive habits. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

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