Flickr: Bruno Caimi


If you watched 60 Minutes recently, you might have seen the segment on TED, (Technology, Entertainment and Design) which many know as a nonprofit organization devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of thought-provoking talks.

Brené Brown, for example, said some pretty interesting things about the power of vulnerability. From her perspective as a social worker—“I’m into messy topics”—she made the point that being vulnerable was not her favorite way to be. “Connectivity is why we’re here,” she said. “It gives purpose and meaning to our lives.”

But her work in this social science had been troubling:

“When you ask people about love, they tell you about heartbreak. When you ask them about belonging, they tell you about exclusion.” Connection becomes disconnection. “My career boils down to six years of stories of shame. . . . and shame is underpinned by ‘excruciating vulnerability.’ ”

As a result of this sad finding, she had what she calls “a little breakdown.”

Her time with a therapist introduced her to a great discovery: “Vulnerability is both the core of shame and fear and the birthplace of joy and love and creativity and belonging.” She focused on the term “whole-hearted people” as those who have:

–the Courage (to be imperfect)

–the Compassion (to be kind to yourself first; if you can’t accept yourself, you can’t accept anyone else)

–the Connection (to authenticity, that allows you to be who you are and let go of who you think you should be)

–Vulnerability. Whole-hearted people believe that what makes them vulnerable makes them who they are—people who are willing to take a chance, to embrace something with no guarantees, who have a strong sense of love and belonging and therefore believe they are worthy of belonging. Those who don’t, don’t.

Ilia Delio speaks of whole-heartedness this way:

“Perhaps we can see salvation as God’s love at the heart of the cosmos that heals, makes whole, and generates new life. This love is visibly expressed in the cross of Jesus Christ. As we are healed and made whole by God’s love, we, in turn, can promote greater wholeness in our communities in our world. This does not negate sin but it puts sin within the wider context of the whole cosmos. Sin is living in unrelatedness or disconnected from the whole.”

In her post-breakdown recovery, Brené Brown would agree. She wondered why we struggle with vulnerability, with feeling useless when we ask for help, with being afraid of being turned down. We live in a vulnerable world. “What do we do with vulnerability? We numb it, apparently without realizing that when we numb vulnerability (fear, shame, uncertainty), we numb everything (joy, happiness, gratitude).” When we drive the good things away, she says, we need to numb what is left. And the dangerous cycle goes on, resulting in the reality that we are the most: in debt, obese, addicted, and medicated people in our world.

Something else that we demand in our refusal to accept our vulnerability is certainty. For example, according to Brené, religion has gone from belief in faith and mystery to insistence on certainty, as in “I’m right. Shut up.” We insist on perfection, rather than authentic imperfection. (Remember when the religious life was known as the state of perfection?) In politics, “there is no respectful or intelligent discourse anymore; there is only blame. And blame, in the research world, means a way to discharge pain and discomfort.”

What is Brené’s answer to our fear of vulnerability? She believes that “we need to be real, to let our true selves be seen, to love with our whole hearts without insisting on guarantees, to practice, gratitude and joy, to embrace this reality: I am enough.”

Does she mean that we will refuse to change? Hardly. She believes in connectivity, in relationships. And relationships change us, make us to be more the persons we are becoming through time. To be changed, to accept my vulnerability, to relate: Truth from a TED speaker that is both personal and universal.

But I’m not writing a commercial for TED. I think I’m exploring for myself the messages that each present moment can reveal if I listen. My watching 60 Minutes was an accident; I usually watch something else. My acquaintance with TED with its funny and transforming talks was a further accident. But the awareness that the ideas and intuitions of volunteer speakers at a non-profit convention might casually underscore a real connection between spirituality and science? What is that?

Brené, the scientist, says, “Connectivity is why we’re here.” Ilia, the theologian, says, “Sin is living in unrelatedness or disconnectedness from the whole” because “God’s love at the heart of the cosmos . . . heals, makes whole, and generates new life.”

Listening. Connecting.