To foreclose on our emotional life out of a fear that the costs will be too high is to walk away from the very thing that gives purpose and meaning to living. When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection. We must walk into the arena, whatever it may be - a new relationship, an important meeting, our creative process, or a difficult family conversation - with courage and the willingness to engage. Diagnosing and labelling people whose struggles are more environmental or learned than genetic or organic is often far more detrimental to healing and change than it is helpful. Labelling the problem in a way that makes it about who people are rather than the choices they’re making lets all of us off the hook.

Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience. Rather than sitting on the sidelines and hurling judgement and advice, we must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen. And when we have an epidemic on our hands, unless we’re talking about something physically contagious, the cause is much more likely to be environmental than a hard wiring issue. It’s often helpful to recognize patterns of behaviors and to understand what those patterns may indicate, but that’s far different from becoming defined by a diagnosis, which is something I believe, and that the research shows, often exacerbates shame and prevents people from seeking help. Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.

Sometimes the simple act of humanizing problems sheds an important light on them, a light that often goes out the minute a stigmatizing label is applied. I know the yearning to believe that what a person is doing matters and how easy it is to confuse that with the drive to be extraordinary. Yes, these thoughts and behaviors ultimately cause more pain and lead to more disconnection, but when we’re hurting and when love and belonging are hanging in the balance, we reach for what we think will offer us the most protection. We’ve had the vulnerability lens zoomed in here on a few specific behaviors, but if we pull out as wide as we can, the view changes. We don’t lose sight of the problems we’ve been discussing, but we see them as part of a larger landscape.

This allows us to accurately identify the greatest cultural influence of our time - the environment that not only explains what everyone is calling a narcissism epidemic, but also provides a panoramic view of the thoughts, behaviors and emotions that are slowly changing who we are and how we live, love, work, lead, parent, govern, teach and connect with one another. The word scarce is from the Old Norman French scars, meaning “restricted in quantity”. Scarcity thrives in a culture where everyone is hyper aware of lack. Everything from safety and love to money and resources feels restricted or lacking. Nostalgia is also a dangerous form of comparison. Scarcity doesn’t take hold in a culture overnight. But the feeling of scarcity does thrive in shame prone cultures that are deeply steeped in comparison and fractured by disengagement. One way to think about the three components of scarcity and how they influence culture is to reflect upon the following questions. Is fear of ridicule and belittling used to manage people and/or to keep people in line? Are people held to one narrow standard rather than acknowledged for their unique gifts and contributions? Is it easier to stay quiet than to share stories, experiences and ideas? The perception that vulnerability is weakness is the most widely accepted myth about vulnerability and the most dangerous.

We spend inordinate amounts of time calculating how much we have, want, and don’t have, and how much everyone else has, needs, and wants. What makes this constant assessing and comparing so self-defeating is that we are often comparing our lives, our marriages, our families and our communities to unattainable, media-driven visions of perfection, or we’re holding up our reality against our own fictional account of how great someone else has it. The counter approach to living in scarcity is not about abundance. In fact, I think abundance and scarcity are two sides of the same coin. The opposite of “never enough” isn’t abundance or “more than you could ever imagine”. The opposite of scarcity is enough, or what I call Wholeheartedness. We spend our lives pushing away and protecting ourselves from feeling vulnerable or from being perceived as too emotional, we feel contempt when others are less capable or willing to mask feelings, suck it up, and soldier on.

We’ve come to the point where, rather than respecting and appreciating the courage and daring behind vulnerability, we let our fear and discomfort become judgement and criticism. Our rejection of vulnerability often stems from our associating it with dark emotions like fear, shame, grief, sadness and disappointment - emotions that we don’t want to discuss, even when they profoundly affect the way we live, love, work, and even lead. Vulnerability isn’t good or bad: it’s not what we call a dark emotion, nor is it always a light, positive experience. What most of us fail to understand is that vulnerability is also the cradle of the emotions and experiences that we crave. Vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings. To feel is to be vulnerable. To believe vulnerability is weakness is to believe that feeling is weakness. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.