Global Climate Strike. Sept 20th, 2019. Los Angeles. Photos by author.

Vulnerability Will Save the World

A friend asked me the other day, “What will it take for people to wake up?”

I paused. What would it take? I thought about the ice melting in Greenland at a rate not expected for 50 years. I thought the fires tearing across California, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate. I thought about the Bahamas, the Amazon, and the desperate cry of scientists saying we have approximately 14 months to turn this ship around.

And then I thought about all the people who aren’t doing anything to change. The ones committed to their patterns of consumption despite the world melting and burning around them. Frogs in boiling water, enjoying their creature comforts with a studied indifference.

What will it take for us to understand that we’re living at the beginning of the Apocalypse? Pavement is buckling, islands are disappearing, and the seas are rising at an unprecedented rate. We’re at the part of the disaster movie where the hunky scientist runs around telling everyone that DANGER IS IMMINENT and as they’re ignoring him, a sinkhole opens up and swallows the White House whole.

So what will it take for people to wake up? Because the climate crisis isn’t just happening, it’s speeding up, and the numbers are looking bad. But bad isn’t the right word. The numbers are devastating. The numbers are terrifying.

The numbers are numbing.

I believe we are in a state of deep paralysis, stuck in a fear-consume-fear-consume cycle, too terrified to act rationally, and I believe the exact question we need to be asking right now is, “How do we break free from paralysis?”

While there are many factors at play in our apathy — humans struggle to see beyond the short-term; we’re not wired to react to slow-moving threats, we’re wired for instant gratification and optimism — paralysis needs to be addressed and overcome if we are to have any chance at survival.

General paralysis is easily understood. Our culture induces and reinforces paralysis at every turn. Uncomfortable? Drink! Smoke! Eat! Shop! Fly! Buy! Buy! Buy! We’re taught that we’re all wrong (too fat, too angry, too girly, too too) and then we’re assured that these bad feelings will go away if we spend money on products. Fear. Consume. Fear. Consume. Fear. Consume.

And if we stop consuming, all we have left is the fear.

If I don’t have that new dress, how will I be okay with my body? If I don’t have the latest technology, how will people know I’m successful? If I don’t have that fancy coffee, how will I rationalize working this job I hate? If I don’t get day drunk on bottomless mimosas, what will Sundays even mean? Will there be any fun left in the world? Will I be okay?

We need to get okay with not being okay.

The world is not okay.

We are not okay.

And that is okay.

To break free from paralysis, we must embrace discomfort. To break the cycle of planet destroying consumption, we must a) stop consuming and b) face the fears that appear in the void where consumption used to live. And what else lives in that void?

Shame.

Shame that we are not good enough. Shame that we are not doing enough. Shame that we are not valid exactly as we are.

While mild shame — that is to say, guilt — is healthy to the extent that it points out our bad behaviours and guides us to fix them, overwhelming guilt can turn into toxic shame and toxic shame can induce paralysis.

Shaming is one of the deepest tools of imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy because shame produces trauma and trauma often produces paralysis.

bell hooks

Shame undermines our ability to be present and leaves us prone to anger, stagnating our ability to take steps toward tangible action. Shame is a tool used by oppressive systems to keep people in line. Shame keeps us stuck.

So. In a time where radical and immediate action is pivotal to our survival, How do we fix this? How do we break free from paralysis?

Vulnerability.

As the venerable Brené Brown explains, “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change” while “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”

Vulnerability is how we break free from paralysis.

Vulnerability is the most tool effective tool we have to combat shame.

Vulnerability is how we disrupt the fear-consume cycle.

Vulnerability is how we open ourselves up to and move through discomfort. It’s how we sit with the shame and fear that has been taught to us by an oppressive culture and how we combat the planet-burning behaviours we undertake like zombies.

Vulnerability is admitting that we’re scared. It’s admitting that we were wrong and acknowledging that we were just doing our best. Vulnerability creates space to question why we do the things we do — so we can figure out how to do them better. Vulnerability brings us together. Vulnerability sets us free.

We are absolutely capable of saving the world.

It’s time to connect the dots between big business and our inability to sit in our discomfort, and see how many world-damaging behaviours can be found in the trail between the two.

It’s time to question the culture that labels certain emotions as “negative” and then teaches us to suppress them. Would happiness not lose meaning without sadness? Does pain not show us the depths of our humanity?

It’s time to dismantle the culture that teaches us that our worth is dependent on our ability to work hard and make purchases. Full stop.

Vulnerability is contagious and it starts with you. One person’s vulnerability in the face of fear and discomfort can set off a chain reaction of catharsis and healing, bigger and more impactful than you can imagine.

So post the Instagram post; share the update — the one you’re afraid people will make fun of you for. Speak up. Speak out. Have the hard conversations. Remember: your insecurity was taught to you by those who wish to keep you oppressed. The more you speak your truth, the more you set yourself — and those around you — free. Free to grieve. Free to fight. Free to take action.

Saving the world is easier than we think.

It starts with you.

It starts now.

Pain is the door.

Vulnerability is the lock.

Sitting with discomfort is the key.

We can no longer afford to be paralyzed.

Speaking our truth is how we set ourselves free.

Kelly Tatham is a writer, filmmaker, photographer, and multi-dimensional collage artist. Sign up for her newsletter on Climate Change in the Multiverse and buy her a coffee to support her work.

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Kelly Tatham

Kelly Tatham

Fugitive. Systemsthinker. Saving the world is easier than we think. There is no world // kellytatham.com