In this age of social media and digital technology, I’ve been having lots of conversations with my friends (via social media and digital technology) about vulnerability. Vulnerability, you should know, is also known as “sharing.” Before the internet “sharing” was something you taught your toddler and it involved trucks and blocks. Now it involves revealing scary and potentially embarrassing things about yourself with others whom you may or may not know.
The tendency to share personal things in public digital fora has given rise to new digital-speak abbreviations such as “TFS” (thanks for sharing – sometimes sincere but often sardonic) and “TMI” (too much information – used for when it’s just too personal, rendering the listener uncomfortable). It’s also created the need for brand-new words such as “overshare” (self-explanatory) and “vulnerability hangover” – that feeling you get after “oversharing” even if others have said TFS but you wonder if they really mean TMI.
Vulnerable Facebook and blog posts are roundly hailed by readers with accolades such as “thanks for being real.” “Your honesty is inspiring.” “I so appreciate your expressing what we all are feeling.” Raw and real posts invite many likes and comments and often private messages thanking the poster and sharing one’s own secrets and baggage. As vulnerability expert Brene Brown teaches, vulnerability creates safety, which invites reciprocal vulnerability.
As an educator and a semi-quasi public person, I choose vulnerability to help others feel more normalized in their challenges. Yet, I often do wonder (during a vulnerability hangover) when indeed it is TMI. See what I did there? I was vulnerable about my vulnerability.
So what my friends and I were discussing then, is where is the line, among educators, leaders, teachers, rabbis? One friend came up with the term “selective vulnerability” to describe how a leader shares and teaches. We share certain things, she maintained, and not others, of course, but more than that, we never become undignified or unclassy in sharing our failings, mistakes, and gaffes.
While I completely agree with that, I disagree with the next point she made. She claims that the correct kind of vulnerability that leads and inspires is the kind that ends off neatly. “I goofed but I learned from my mistake.” “I was down but then I got up.” “I struggled but then I worked it out.” I don’t think so. Not every story ends with a neat little bow at the top. Leaders and teachers don’t have everything figured out. We don’t always fix our mistakes. I think the inspiration is in how we handle the struggle. I think recognizing you’ve goofed is inspiring, even before you’ve worked out how to recover or repair. And I also think that feeling that you can’t be inspiring unless you’ve worked out your stuff is dangerous for both parties.
My friend and I agreed to disagree. I am so grateful I have friendships like this. My friend lives 2405.3 miles away from me and without social media, digital technology and vulnerability, we would never be friends. We would never be able to have deep, meaningful conversations about real things that matter to me. And so, with all its failings and dangers, I am grateful for TMI and TFS and the rest. And if you’re reading this post, you should be too. TTYL and TGIF.