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Brené Brown On Why Embracing Vulnerability Is Critical To Human Flourishing…*

“Our capacity for wholeheartedness can never be greater than our willingness to be brokenhearted.” 

In this splendid talk given at the RSA, research professor, Dr. Brené Brown, who has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame, highlights the tension between the behaviors spurred by our culture of scarcity– a culture of never enough–and the critical function of vulnerability in human flourishing. We live in a culture shaped by fear and blame, argues Brown; everywhere around us, the dominant questions framing the discourse in virtually all areas of society are: “What should I be afraid of today?” and, “Who’s to blame?” Our instinctual response to this culture of scarcity is to armor up in an attempt to protect ourselves from being rejected and hurt.

We wake up in the morning and we armor up and we put it on and say, “I’m going to go out into the world, I’m basically going to kick some ass, I’m not going to let anyone see who I am and in doing so, I can protect myself against the things that hurt the most–judgment, criticism, fear, blame, ridicule. I’m going to armor up and I’m going to be safe.” 

This armor takes on many facets–perfectionism, intellectualizing, etc.–but at its core, the armor serves the same function for everyone: to protect our sense of being lovable, and being acceptable and being worth connection; to avoid feeling like we’re not enough. The issue, as Brown points out, is that, as the research shows, “vulnerability is the path to love, belonging, joy, intimacy, trust, innovation, creativity and empathy.” Essentially, the strategy that we are using to protect and nurture our sense of love, acceptance, and connection–putting an armor on–is keeping us from reaching those very goals in an authentic and fulfilling manner.

What can we do to move in a more positive direction? Brown suggests three focal points for rethinking…* our behaviors:

  1. Learn to differentiate between empathy and sympathy. Act on empathy.
  2. Learn to move past blame and focus on accountability .
  3. Learn to differentiate between behavior (guilt) and self (shame). Guilt mobilizes individuals for positive action, while “shame corrodes the part of us that believes we can change.”

EMPATHY vs. SYMPATHY

Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection. Empathy is feeling with people. So to respond empathically, I would need to try to understand [that person’s] perspective, stay out of judgment, recognize what [they’re] feeling and kind of communicate it back: “Oh, shit. I hate that.” or “Oh God, There’s nothing worse than___.” That’s empathy. Empathy is, “I’m feeling with you.”

Sympathy is, “I’m feeling for you.” […] In Texas, in the South in general in the U.S., we have the worst saying ever, that just smacks and reeks of sympathy, which is, “Bless your heart.” Basically, what I’m saying is, “that sucks, but too bad and God is on my side.” So sympathy is one of the things that really gets in the way of empathy and sympathy is also often how we respond when we don’t want to be vulnerable to someone else’s struggle. 

[…]

We all need different things from empathy. There are no hard and fast rules about what empathy looks like or what it sounds like, but there is one that I will share with you from the research, it is: “Rarely, if ever, does an empathic response begin with ‘At least’.” And we do it all the time because someone just shared something with us that’s incredibly painful and we’re trying to put the silver lining around it. So, “I had a miscarriage”, “At least, you can get pregnant.” How does that feel? Awful. But one of the things we do sometimes in the face of very difficult conversations, is we try to make things better instead of leaning into. If I share something with you that’s very difficult, I rather you say, “Wow, I don’t even know what to say right now, I’m just glad you told me.” Because the truth is, rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection. 

Sometimes, the most profound and eloquent examples of empathy happen without any words. And sometimes, not even with eye contact. To me, if I’m sitting next to you and I say, “Wow, I feel like the wheels are falling off right now and things are out of control.” And someone just puts their hand on top of my hand and squeezes–that says, with touch, I think, the two most important words in my work, which are: “Me too.”

BLAME vs. ACCOUNTABILITY

Blame is simply the discharging of discomfort and pain. It has an inverse relationship with accountability. Meaning that people who blame a lot, seldom have the tenacity and grit to actually hold people accountable because we expand all of our energy raging for fifteen seconds and figuring out whose fault something is. 

Accountability, by definition, is a vulnerable process: it means me calling you and saying, “Hey, my feelings were really hurt about this,” and talking. It’s not blaming. Blaming is simply a way that we discharge anger, which is really hard, and blaming is really corrosive in relationships and it’s one of the reasons we miss our opportunities for empathy, because when something happens and we’re hearing a story, we’re not really listening, we’re making connections as quickly as we can about whose fault something was. 

GUILT vs. SHAME

Shame is, “I’m bad.” And guilt is, “I did something bad.” So shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior. The outcomes are hugely different. What we know from the research is that shame is highly, highly correlated with addiction, depression, aggression, violence, suicide, bullying. And, almost more importantly, we know that guilt is inversely correlated with those outcomes. Meaning the more someone is able to separate themselves from their behaviors, the less likely it is that they’ll end up suffering from these struggles. And the implications are huge, especially around parenting. As it turns out, there is a tremendous difference between, “You’re a bad girl” and, “You’re a great kid, but that was a bad choice.” 

When we see people change behaviors, make amends, when we see positive behavioral change, you can almost always trace it back to guilt. Guilt is uncomfortable but I’m a big fan of it because it’s cognitive dissonance–it’s, “I’ve done something, and I’m holding it up against my values and it doesn’t feel right.” That’s guilt.

Brown’s work and insights on the power of vulnerability link back directly to Carol Dweck’s research on mindsets. Armoring up to protect the self is a fixed mindset strategy–it stems from a belief that traits are fixed: I have certain inherent character traits that make me lovable, acceptable and worthy of connection to a certain fixed point. And since these traits are fixed and static over time, my best course of action is to keep others from finding out what I’m really like. Shame and blame both come right out of the fixed mindset with its framework of judgment. Meanwhile, the ability to embrace vulnerability, to lean into it, stems directly from a growth mindset. It is a recognition that we as individuals have the agency and capacity to grow, to develop our ability for empathy, change and accountability. It is a willingness to learn new strategies for connection and accepting the risks of failure and pain that inherently comes with trying something new.

The Power of Vulnerability, via RSA, published July 4, 2013.

John Berger on Genuine Art, Uncovering the Mysterious & Matters of Translation…*

All genuine art approaches something which is eloquent but which we cannot altogether understand. Eloquent because it touches something fundamental. How do we know? We do not know. We simply recognize.

Art cannot be used to explain the mysterious.  What art does is to make it easier to notice. Art uncovers the mysterious. And when noticed and uncovered, it becomes more mysterious. I suspect writing about art is a vanity, leading to sentences like the above. When words are applied to visual art, both lose precision. Impasse.”  – John Berger | ” Branching Out” | Berger On Drawing (2005)

Friday Link Fest…*

Friday Link Fest...* | rethinked.org

 

READ

The Importance of Quick & Dirty ~ Jason Fried, co-founder and president of 37signals, on why ‘The ability to run with scissors is a blessing, not a curse.’ via Inc.com, published April 30, 2013.

5 Ways To Innovate By Cross-Pollinating Ideas ~ via FastCo.Design, published May 10, 2013.

Many Parents Push Academics Over Play Which May Harm Kids’ Health  ~ On the critical importance of play…* in life and learning. via Inhabitots, published January 1, 2012.

Want Kids to Become Scientists? Don’t Arrest Them For Experimenting ~ #ScienceIsNotACrime . via GOOD, published May 3, 2013.

Profiling Serial Creators ~  Scott Barry Kaufman on why it’s essential that we continually question and attempt to improve the methods by which we identify, mentor, and cultivate those who are ready and capable of becoming our next generation of innovators. Tragically, we are failing these students, often unknowingly letting them fall between the cracks in an education system that rewards characteristics that dampen creativity, such as conformity, standardization, and efficiency. via The Creativity Post, published May 8, 2013.

Well Designed Schools Improve Learning by 25 Percent Says New Study ~ via Dezeen, published January 2, 2013.

John Dewey’s Vision of Learning as Freedom ~ “The inclination to learn from life itself and to make the conditions of life such that all will learn in the process of living is the finest product of schooling.” via the New York Times, published September 5, 2012

5 Innovation Lessons You Can Learn On The Dance Floor ~ “Through movement we can inspire creativity, deep listening, & cross-generational learning” via Fast Company, published May 3, 2013.

LOOK

Things Come (Very, Very) Apart ~ Toronto-based commercial photographer Todd McLellan disassembled 50 design classics for his book: Things Come Apart: A Teardown Manual for Modern Living. McLellan’s photographs seek to challenge our disposable culture by making transparent all the things that we regularly throw away. “I hope people think a little bit more about the things they use. Not that people should have feelings for objects, but instead think about ‘reuse and recycle,’ not just ‘use and discard.’ ” via NPR, published May 1, 2013.

10 Playgrounds That Would Put Your Childhood Hangout to Shame ~ From a colorful crocheted alligator, to a surreal, warping jungle gym, to a playground made out of recycled iron drums, here are 10 truly innovative and unusual playgrounds. via Atlantic Cities, published May 7, 2013.

Explaining Complicated Philosophies With Gorgeously Simple Postcards ~ Philographics by Genís Carreras:  Making it easier for us to talk philosophy by removing words & replacing them with pictures ~ via WIRED Design, published May 6, 2013.

Tour Google Moon and Google Mars with Bill Nye the Science Guy ~ via Lost At E Minor, published May 9, 2013.

 

WATCH

The History of Typography Told in Five Animated Minutes ~ via Open Culture, published May 6, 2013.

The Best of Humanity Caught on Russian Dash Cams ~ via Colossal, published May 3, 2013.

Can A New Symbol Make You Better At Math? ~ Math popularizer Rob Eastaway’s ‘Zequals’ sign is a reaction against the learned helplessness that most of us have accepted in our relationship with numbers. via FastCo.Design, published May 6, 2013.

Graffiti Artist Uses Rotten Fruit and Vegetables As Paint ~ Tropical Hungry by Narcelio Grud. Grud scavenged for produce in the streets and created sustainable, organic murals with it. ~ via PSFK, published May 8, 2013.

High schoolers design robotic locker for disabled classmate ~ via GOOD, published May 9, 2013.

Friday Link Fest {January 3-11, 2013}

Friday Link Fest {January 3-11, 2013} Photograph by Elsa Fridman

 

The Future of Work  ~ a PSFK Labs Report

John Maeda & The Art of Leadership: Considering Business Leadership as an Artistic Endeavor ~ via Design Matters

“Art is about asking questions, which is a good way of looking at how to solve a problem. I like to apply how artists think to look at how to improve design, technology…and now leadership.” -John Maeda

To Increase Innovation Take the Sting Out of Failure ~ via Harvard Business Review, published January 9, 2013.

Start by defining a smart failure. Everyone in your organization knows what success is. It’s the things you put on a resume: increased revenues, decreased costs, delivered a product etc. Far fewer know what a smart failure is — i.e. the type of failures that should be congratulated. These are the thoughtful and well planned projects that for some reason didn’t work. Define them so people know the acceptable boundaries within which to fail. If you don’t define them, all failure looks risky and it will kill creativity and innovation.

Questions to consider in defining smart failures: What makes a failure smart in our organization? What makes a failure dumb? Specifically, what guidelines, approaches, or processes characterize smart risk taking? What clear examples can we point to, to demonstrate smart failures? You want people to clearly understand the right and wrong way to fail.

Bike Spikes Allow For Urban Rides In The Snow ~ For his graduation project at the Design Academy Eindhoven, Dutch designer Cesar van Rongen developed an ingenious solution for the two-wheeled set to use during the oh-so- cold-and-slippery season. via FastCoDesign, published January 10, 2013.

What Innovators Can Learn From Artists ~ via Design Mind, published January 2, 2013.

1. Artists are “neophiles”
2. Artists are humanists
3. Artists are craftspeople
4. Artists are like children
5. Artists rely on their intuition
6. Artists are comfortable with ambiguity
7. Artists are holistic, interdisciplinary thinkers
8. Artists thrive under constraints
9. Artists are great storytellers
10. Artists are conduits and not “masters of the universe”
11. Artists are passionate about their work
12. Artists are contrarians

Steelcase’s Anthropologist On Remaking Offices To Create Happier Workers ~ The need to text is new, while the needs to make contact–and to find privacy–are old. Same old human nature thrown into constantly new contexts. It’s the job of Donna Flynn, who directs Steelcase’s WorkSpace Futures, a 19-member independent research group within the global office design company, to understand how these timely (and timeless) trends shape the way we work. via Fast Company, published January 3, 2013.

The workplace is becoming distributed.
As teams spread out, the nature of collaboration changes.
This quest leads to another: privacy
At the core of all this is well-being.

21 Emotions For Which There Are No English Words ~ Infographic by design student Pei-Ying Lin. via Pop Sci, published January 4, 2013.

How to design breakthrough inventions60 Minutes‘ profile of David Kelley and IDEO: Global firm IDEO incorporates human behavior into product design — an innovative approach being taught at Stanford. Charlie Rose profiles the company’s founder, David Kelley. via 60 Minutes, Published January 6, 2013.

 

Jun Fujiwara’s Re: Sound Bottle Remixes The Sounds All Around You ~ via FastCoDesign, published January 9, 2013.

(Re: Sound Bottle from Jun Fujiwara on Vimeo.)

It is the willingness to confront one’s assumptions that counts ~ Dominic Randolph on Creativity & Inspiration

In the Spring of 2009, as part of an oral history project centered on creativity and inspiration, I interviewed artists involved in a wide range of mediums, spanning from film to etching including painting, poetry, writing, music, and photography. I started off each interview with the topic of inspiration or its absence. One of my interviewees was Dominic Randolph–Sketcher, Etcher, Writer, Singer and Educator–on his creative process & sources of inspiration. Here is the interview in full, reprinted with his permission:

I get inspired by words, metaphors, provocative images, also other stories… many from memories. You take an idea and run with it…sort of brainstorming. For example, I remember being invited to a tea with the abbot of a Finnish Orthodox Monastery, I was living and working at the monastery for the summer. He was a Russian–sort of out of a novel living in the Abbott’s house–a Victorian house overlooking a lake. He had one of the old samovars that whistled away. It was odd to be with a number of young students meeting with the Abbott, but unable to speak with him. We had tea and then walked in the orchard. I can still remember that the air was cold, but it was sunny. The apple trees were in bloom. The next day we were again peeling potatoes and raking leaves. I wondered what the Abbott was doing since we never really saw him walk around the rest of the monastery.

There are many things I could mine in this–the apple trees, the cold water of the lake, the odd Russian/Finnish/global thing. I would probably sketch around and doodle and write–see if anything interesting emerges to then move on the next level. The next level is something that is more of its own–a drawing or a story or both–something that is connected to the original inspiration, but has its own integrity or life. Perhaps there is some image of apples and water that I could play off of. “Apples+Water”,  not a bad title. I could link this to other places where apples and water play off of one and another–remember “The Orchard” in Cambridge. That also links the idea to poets that I know–could be some interesting linkage there between British and Russian poets.

Of course sometimes they are just sketches or doodles or failures. I wait for something to catch my imagination. I don’t really think it has much to do with a creative mindset, no I think it is more of a constant thing but I do think that to produce something worthwhile (at the next level) one needs to get into “flow”. Here are the components of “flow” from Wikipedia: Csíkszentmihályi identifies the following nine factors as accompanying an experience of flow:

  1. Clear goals (expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one’s skill set and abilities).
  2. Concentrating and focusing, a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it).
  3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, the merging of action and awareness.
  4. Distorted sense of time, one’s subjective experience of time is altered.
  5. Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed).
  6. Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).
  7. A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
  8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.
  9. People become absorbed in their activity, and focus of awareness is narrowed down to the activity itself, action awareness merging.

Not all are needed for flow to be experienced…

For me the flow is when you just forget that time exists and become super-involved in a certain task; you are interested in something and your interest takes over completely. I guess it happens naturally. I do think that there are some things that help–getting good sleep and having a space that is conducive to concentration–those things help. I think that it is also helpful if one has experienced flow before in one’s life… I think that it is addictive. The first time I experienced it was probably when I was playing an instrument when young–I think that you also need to attain a level of proficiency doing something so that it can become automatic to some degree, doing sports as well, running…There are periods when I don’t experience flow–when I am tired, distracted by other things, depressed–It makes me more frustrated than anything else. I’m not certain that I fear losing the potential of flow since I find I can get to it pretty easily.

Being around people who are idea generators helps. I think that there are people who are always thinking about different, new things; there are actually loads of people like this–much more common than we are led to believe. There are creative waiters and bus drivers, but we make out that only artists have real creative capacity…bullshit and a really unhelpful myth. Everyone has the potential to create, to experience the flow, absolutely. I think that we could all be more creative in our lives. It is just a matter of acquiring a certain mindset, of assuming that things can always be improved upon whether it is an idea, a drawing or the way that you cross the road…

Any experiences that are different from the routine are possibly an aid to creativity. Creative tension arises when one’s assumptions about something are questioned. So drinking mate from a gourd instead of Earl Grey out of a porcelain cup is going to make me think more creatively about tea. I don’t think that travel is a must, though–some of the most creative people didn’t travel much at all. It is the willingness to confront one’s assumptions that counts.

I just saw a bee outside of the window and remembered going to Corfe Castle in Dorset with my mother, brother and aunt. We were having tea in a garden next to the castle when we were attacked by bees interested in the jam. We were swatting them, running around trying to not get bitten…had to run into the house and let the bees win. Interesting idea of how nature can confound us, we think we are in control and then suddenly, we are no longer in control. I could think of drawing something that played with this conflict.

 

I have always been fascinated by the idea of the labyrinth–think of the Minotaur, the clammy walls, the fear, the thread. Why do we want to walk in a labyrinth? Do we always want to be on a journey or path to find something? Is it something grotesque, or something enlightening?

I love the idea of punctuation as being something more than a protocol for making sense. I am obsessed with ellipsis right now–the path, the potential, the dots moving our minds along, to what?

They’re cool, image-wise, and then you start thinking about what they can mean…perhaps it is a matter of looking for the extraordinary in the ordinary, like Morandi and his bottles. He just sat in his room and painted bottles again and again.

 

 

The Russian Formalists talked about this idea of estrangement. Roman Jakobson described literature as “organized violence committed on ordinary speech.” Literature constitutes a deviation from average speech that intensifies, invigorates, and estranges the mundane speech patterns. In other words, for the Formalists, literature is set apart because it is just that: set apart. The use of devices such as imagery, rhythm, and meter is what separates “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns (Nabokov Lolita 9)”, from “the assignment for next week is on page eighty four.” This estrangement serves literature by forcing the reader to think about what might have been an ordinary piece of writing about a common life experience in a more thoughtful way. A piece of writing in a novel versus a piece of writing in a fishing magazine. At the very least, literature should encourage readers to stop and look closer at scenes and happenings they otherwise might have skimmed through uncaring. The reader is not meant to be able to skim through literature. When addressed in a language of estrangement, speech cannot to be skimmed through. “In the routines of everyday speech, our perceptions of and responses to reality become stale, blunted, and as the Formalists would say ‘automatized’. Literature by forcing us into a dramatic awareness of language, refreshes these habitual responses and renders objects more perceptible (Eagleton ‘What Is Literature’).” In 1917, Russian Formalist scholar Victor Shklovsky coined the term ostranenie to describe the artistic strategy of presenting the well-known as if seen for the first time. The term is translated into German as Verfremdung, which became the cornerstone of Bertolt Brecht’s anti-Aristotelian dramaturgy of estrangement. The traditional means of estrangement in theater are epic devices central to Brecht’s strategy of breaking theatrical…taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary….taking the little girl’s walk through the woods and making it into Little Red Riding Hood…taking advertisements and making them into artistic statements.

The duckrabbit confronts one’s assumptions about things, it challenges one’s perceptions (what you think is a duck is actually a rabbit)–how can you have an image of one thing be an image of something else? The duckrabbit is key…It creates the paradox, creates the tension, read something one way and understand that there is another way of reading. Interpretation and meaning.

Restlessness…Chatwin was right…always seeking…always uneasy…get unhoused…to drive from a house or habitation; to dislodge; hence, to deprive of shelter…it also means to make people feel uncomfortable, to shake up…

 

                                                        

 

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