Book Review -- Daring Greatly: Part 2

Book Review, Part 2 – Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead by Brené Brown Have you ever read or experienced something, and then it seems linked to everything you encounter? And you are fascinated by it so much that you completely geek out, annoying everyone around you because you're talking about it nonstop? I LOVE when this happens, and the last few times were as follows:

  • my undergraduate honors project on how travel has the ability to foster deeper spirituality for young adults
  • living in Chicago (I don't live there anymore, and I still read Chicago bloggers, local publications, and the Sun-Times)
  • my master's degree in religion and literature, focusing on religious themes in 20th century texts (everyone: huh? what does that mean, and what do you do with it?)
  • yoga in general, how it can benefit one's body, mind and soul
  • certain authors, such as Tolstoy, Cheryl Strayed, George Saunders, Elizabeth Gilbert, J.S. Foer, Anne Lamott, Virginia Woolf & more, because their words resonate

And now, Brené Brown, with whom I have a small obsession.

Brene Brown

I read her stuff and think UGHHHH YES/WHOA/WHAT in a delightful way; I want to share it with everyone around me because I think it's so powerful. It's taken me almost two months to complete Daring Greatly, which is basically unheard of in my reading world. As I said in part 1 of this review, it's a book that I wanted to read slowly because so much insightful material is packed into each page. I can't tell you how many times I'm reading/watching/having a conversation and think, "Well, Brené would say..." as if she is a real, live person in my life.

Picking up where we left off, chapter 5 discusses how we might close the disengagement divide in order to cultivate change. Brown says we need to "mind the gap," meaning, we need to "pay attention to the space between where we're standing and where we want to go." (173). People become disengaged when they see social contracts being violated left and right--at home, at work, at school, at church and in politics--by people who are essentially not living by the same values they're promoting, or people who are pushing for change in an area or way that doesn't or won't affect them. The result? We disengage as parents, partners, employees, leaders, teachers, students, congregants, voters; we disengage at all ages and at all levels.

Brown's solution is that we mind the gap between aspirational and practiced values. It's really easy to miss that step: you tell your kids to be honest, but then they hear you tell a lie. You ask your spouse to be more affectionate, and then bat him or her away at the first effort. You lament the lack of respect from your coworkers, but never take the time to have a conversation with any of them. It happens over and over, and we often don't realize we are doing it, or we don't know how to bridge this gap. Brown says, quite simply, that we just need to acknowledge where we're lacking and actually have a conversation about the fact that these gaps exist. It's a matter of saying, "I did tell a lie, and I won't do that again" or "It's hard for me to accept your affection since it's been lacking for so long" or "It might seem like I don't care to get to know you, and that's not true--want to go to lunch?" And so on.

Continuing in a similar vein, Brown offers a few other alternatives for how to rehumanize education and work environments. She calls upon leaders--defined as anyone who holds her or himself accountable for finding potential in people and processes--to focus on two areas: where shame permeats a culture and how feedback is encouraged, delivered and accepted.

Brown notes that most people don't think shame exists in their offices, schools or homes. They're wrong. Shaming behavior is everywhere, and when it's allowed to persist, people stop showing up, contributing and caring. Try to think of a time you felt belitted by another person's comment or action--you weren't invited to the lunch party with coworkers, your boss cut you off in the meeting, your client said that your work sucked, your teacher told you that you weren't smart/creative/funny, your partner made fun of something you said . . . there are a million ways shaming tactics can and are used with one another, and it destroys both relationships and companies. I view this as a classic case of "Not A Big Deal" syndrome: small, minor events or issues that "aren't a big deal," but still promote negativity or hurt or miscommunication, and because of that fact, slowly erode trust and connection. All those little examples above, on their own, once in a while, are "Not A Big Deal." But over time, those small things add up to something much bigger, and much more profoundly detrimental.

To combat this, Brown does suggest that we invite open discussions by starting with feedback. Is it delivered with empathy and respect? Is it lengthy and behind one's back, or short and directly to one's face? Does it even happen, or is it avoided? How do you feel when you give, and receive, feedback?

Well, most of us don't want feedback in the first place. We want to look good, and we want to feel good, and criticism (no matter how "constructive" it seems) doesn't often create either of those results. Obviously without feedback, it's hard to grow, so Brown presents a multitude of ways to improve the feedback process: sit at the same side of the table, listen rather than jumping to respond, breathe deeply, identify three observable strengths and then one opportunity for growth, etc.

Finally, Brown addresses what it means to be a wholehearted parent. She asks, "Are you the adult that you want your child to grow up to be?" I'm not a parent yet, but I see frequently (and in the media) how critical parents are of one another's choices (I'd venture to say it's more heightened for women as well). Brown says, "Certainty often breeds absolutes, intolerance and judgment. that's why parents are so critical--we latch onto a method or approach and very quickly our way becomes the way." (215)

She continues: "What we learn about ourselves and how we learn to engage with the world as children sets a course that either will require us to spend a significant part of our life fighting to reclaim our self-worth or will give us hope, courage, and resilience for our journey." (217)

Really, one of the most important things a parent can do in Brown's opinion is to be engaged with their children. She references Maya Angelou's line about "having your face light up when you see the people you love." To Brown, "Engagement means investing time and energy. It means sitting down with our children and understanding their worlds, their interests, and their stories. . . . Most of us have so many competing demands on our time that it's easy to think, I can't sacrifice three hours to sit down and review my son's Facebook page or sit with my daughter while she explains every detail of the fourth grade science fair scandal. . . . [but] when we are fully engaged in parenting, regardless of how imperfect, vulnerable and messy it is, we are creating something sacred." (237)

Brown also asks parents to let kids struggle, so that they may learn from challenge and adversity as well as strengthen their ability to hope. She writes, "Hope happens when we have the ability to set realistic goals (I know where I want to go)we are able to figure out how to achieve those goals, including the ability to stay flexible and develop alternative routes (I know how to get there, I'm persistent, and I can tolerate disappointment and try again), and we believe in ourselves (I can do this!). Hope is a combination of setting goals, having the tenacity and perseverance to pursue them, and believing in our own abilities. Hope is Plan B. (239)

To conclude, Brown states, powerfully: "Daring greatly is not about winning or losing. It's about courage. In a world where scarcity and shame dominate and feeling afraid has become second nature, vulnerability is subversive. Uncomfortable. It's even a little dangerous at times. And, without question, putting ourselves out there means there's a far greater risk of feeling hurt. But as I look back on my own life . . . I can honestly say that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous and hurtful as believing that I'm standing on the outside of my life looking in and wondering what it would be like if I had the courage to show up and let myself be seen." (249)

Don't stand on the outside of your life and wonder what it could be like. Brown asks that we dare greatly to show up and live that very life to the fullest. I couldn't agree more.