Vulnerability and Learning to be Affected

I’ve been struggling with an article for a long time. This piece of writing has evolved through 5 or 6 complete revisions and framings (and many, many more versions), including being part of a thesis chapter and part of a book chapter. I’ve taken it to two retreats, I’ve had reviewer feedback, peer feedback, and editorial feedback. But the progress has just been so slow. I’ve taken to heart the call from the Great Lakes Feminist Collective for slow scholarship, which argues that much of our best work is slow. But I think what is truly slowing it down is how vulnerable it makes me feel, to come out and try to write what is really in my heart and what I really want to say, without all the framing and posturing that so often accompanies a piece of theoretical work.

The article is about learning to be affected by the nonverbal communications of babies, and how that can be a transformative experience that has the potential to imprint a preference for connection for both the new baby and the new parent. I’m coming up to my deadline now, and needing to get the final version done, but I keep feeling resistance to doing the work that needs to be done, resistance to expressing what I really want to express in a positive and non-defensive way. What am so afraid of, that this blockage is still there?

I have a number of ideas about what I am fearful of, but what I want to write about today is not the fears themselves, but the act of becoming vulnerable. For me, vulnerability comes when I stop hiding how much I care about something — from myself as well as others. The lesson I am trying to learn comes from some of the great people around me who practice vulnerability on a regular basis. Tonight, listening to a podcast from one of my favourite authors, this line struck me as important:

“You cannot be in the presence of a truly vulnerable person without being affected. I think that is the way we are meant to be in the presence of each other.” Richard Rohr, speaking on the podcast On Being.

Richard Rohr is right in that regard, I think. I certainly cannot be in the presence of a truly vulnerable person without being affected, and I think I am affected in a way that really is just pure compassion and a desire to connect and to comfort and reassure. Vulnerabilty, for me,  invokes care. And it also invokes true connection and a form of quiet security that actually enables vulnerability to travel and spread to those around.

What does this have to do with my article? Well, I hope when it is finally done, it will not only be received critically, but in the spirit of vulnerability. My hope is that if vulnerability in a person can invoke compassion, connection, reassurance and care, then my most vulnerable article could also do so around matters dear to my heart.

Of course, in the same podcast, Rohr comments on his prayer for ‘daily humiliation’, which often comes in the form of hate mail. It wouldn’t be vulnerability if the possibility for abuse or intolerance was not present. Still, I do think it is the way we are meant be in the presence of each other. Did anything good ever emerge out of pride and false security? Are not risks part of transformation?


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