The Art of Vulnerability and Introspection

In my final semester at the University of Houston, I decided to take a class on 20th-century genocides. I had taken plenty of history classes before, so I knew what to expect. Read the books, write the papers, demonstrate my love of history, get an A. Done.

I wasn’t prepared for a professor so good. I spent the entire semester depressed and angry. This was no ordinary class. Professor Guenther made sure we understood exactly what genocide was and how it happens. We studied the human psyche behind some of the most horrid events in recent history. We read books in great detail from people who either saw or experienced starvation, disease, and extreme violence en masse.

This was hard enough to do, but one day in particular I noticed something about myself.

We were studying the Rwandan genocide and Professor Guenther decided that we were going to watch a documentary. This was not some bland History Channel (you know when they used to show anything related to history) documentary. Much of the footage was graphic. All of it was heartbreaking. At one point, footage of a child my son’s age screamed. I wanted to look away.

I found myself looking for my coffee cup, looking out of the window to see what was happening outside, anything but look at the suffering on the screen. I had to tell myself to look. But it’s easier not to.

Why? Because it made me uncomfortable. It made me feel guilty. It made me feel like I had to do something even though I didn’t want to or didn’t know how to.

It’s much easier to close our ears and go la la la when we don’t want to listen to something that might just make us take a closer look at ourselves.

I think it’s easy to either close off or lash out when we’re forced into these vulnerable situations. If we open up our hearts and our minds, there might be something fearful inside. Maybe I’ll find out that I am wrong or that I am lazy or maybe something worse.

I have my own fears about myself that I have taken many steps in my life to avoid looking into. I have spent a good portion of my life being told by some that I was lazy or stupid or out of control or that I would never amount to anything. I clung to my ADHD diagnoses and built up systems to avoid that chaos in my mind that I was afraid would take over.

When I wanted to be productive, I set up an elaborate series of systems designed to make sure my life didn’t sink into chaos. When I wanted to lose weight, I obsessed over calories and macros to make sure I didn’t lose control. When I wanted to help all those who suffered in this world, I went to Facebook and commented on how terrible the world is and how we should really do something about to make sure that I didn’t have to actually do anything. And not doing anything means I don’t have to open my heart and not opening my heart means I don’t have to get it hurt.

I spent most of my life designing systems that would make sure I never had to think for myself or to think of myself. And when those systems didn’t work quite as well as I hoped, I was a failure.

These systems I created myself became a distraction, not a solution. And now the idea of giving them up terrifies me. What if I am lazy, out of control, and uncaring? I don’t want to know the answer to that. Cue joke for the purpose of avoidance.

The journey I’m on right now is about giving up on those systems of avoidance. Avoidance means I don’t have to think or to feel, but what kind of life is that?

I’m working on taking away some of those pieces I have built to prop myself up and I’m learning to walk a little freer. I’m journaling and writing this blog as a means of introspection – of learning about myself and the world with clearer vision.

It’s natural to want to avoid something that makes us feel vulnerable. But we need to take these massive brains of ours and put them to good use by being introspective. Opening our hearts and our minds make us more vulnerable, but we need more vulnerability. Vulnerability allows us to overcome fear. It is not weakness. Vulnerability and introspection take a certain amount of courage and strength – much more so than avoidance, fear, anger and the facade of toughness. True strength is shining a light on those dark areas and looking the monsters in the face.

Are there any areas in your life where you’ve set up systems of avoidance? Where in your life can you be more vulnerable?

Image: “introspection” by cotaro70s

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