Strength and Vulnerability

Edmund D. Fountain for NPR, via NPR

I love this NPR story about vulnerability. Southern oil workers. A quirky French lady. Billions of dollars at stake. It has it all.

The gist of the story is this: vulnerability makes us safer. It is such a counter-intuitive notion, but once you read the story, it makes sense. Of course it isn’t a good idea to be totally vulnerable in front of complete strangers. But with your family, friends, neighbors, church members, and colleagues, it is better to be vulnerable.

When people are vulnerable with each other, trust is developed. When people trust each other, they are more open to the opinions of others. This allows for more learning and growth. We become better people when we are willing to be vulnerable.

This is one of the reasons I love community organizing. The most fundamental skill we teach is the 1:1, or “one to one”, conversation. In this conversation, the point is to be vulnerable enough to make a genuine connection with another human being.

Electoral campaigns teach 1:1s because genuine connections make people more likely to volunteer. Long-term community organizing groups teach 1:1s because they help break down barriers and forge relationships between people who often are very different from each other.

Lydia Bean and Edwin Robinson model 1:1s. Photo by Andrew Greenberg.

The photo above, and the Dallas Morning News story that goes with it, shows my colleagues Lydia Bean and Edwin Robinson, both of Faith in Texas, modeling a 1:1 for attendees of the Dallas Festival of Ideas group Actions Speak Louder. Members of the group were taught how to have 1:1s, and then were places in groups with facilitators so that they could practice genuine 1:1s with people they didn’t know. The feedback was overwhelming: there is tremendous power in this kind of vulnerability to heal and strengthen our society.

I can speak personally to the power of this kind of intentional vulnerability. Before I started my life in community organizing, I wasn’t great at connecting with strangers. It made me nervous and guarded. My relationships with others were often superficial or transactional. But when I learned how to have intentional 1:1s, when I learned how to be vulnerable, my life changed. If you ask people who knew me before 2012 and who know me know, they would say that I’m stronger and more confident than I was before. I gained power when I learned how to be vulnerable.

I encourage everyone to find ways to learn this skill. It doesn’t come naturally for most of us. It requires a supportive community, good teachers, and a good initial shot of bravery. Feel free to email me below if you want to learn more. The more people who know how to do this, the stronger we will all be.