That Obama speech though - vulnerability, and how hard it is to be seen and heard
"Vulnerability is actually the courage to show up and be seen."Brené Brown
It's only Monday, and I've already been positively challenged twice. The first time was when I realised how uncomfortable it is for me to share my feelings. The second time was when I listened to someone talk about the impact that Michelle Obama speech had on her.
And both are related.
So, let's talk a bit about the first challenge. I've always known I was a private person. The quiet child, the one who reads a lot, the one who chooses silence and observation, the one who doesn't reveal much about her internal life. It probably comes from having had to share my room with my siblings until I was 18. The yearn for privacy and autonomy that comes with it. It also probably comes from the fear of being judged for the ridiculousness of that internal life.
It probably comes from a lot of different places, but the fact is, I'm a listener. I love asking weird questions. I'm fascinated by the stories of others.
My job as a design researcher means that I spend a lot of time listening to people. And I'm looking for that empathy. I want to connect with their experiences, and I want to make them feel truly heard. But somehow, tonight, (I joined this brilliant workshop on empathy skills), it was my turn to be heard. And I realised I didn't like the feeling of being heard. It felt that my truth, which I so rarely share, was suddenly being seen by another person, and with too much lucidity (the person I was sharing with was a brilliant listener). So for some reason, what should have felt like a moment of clarity felt like terribly hard work.
When I'm doing research with people, I sometimes spend half a day, sometimes a whole day with them, uncovering their story. This experience was a nice reminder of how generous the people I encounter during ethnographic research really are. Laying out your vulnerabilities in the open for others to see is a hell of lot harder than jumping in a freezing outdoor pool, as I did earlier today.
This brings me to my second challenge. At that same empathy workshop (which I really recommend) I listened to (this was my more comfortable space, listening) a woman telling me how much the reactions bringing down Trumps' attacks on women have affected her. She talked about a sense of relief and empowerment in finally being able to speak up and express discomfort and anger without having to justify or question these feelings. And she talked about Michelle Obama's speech as a catalyst for this sense of empowerment.
Very few times in my life have I experienced real leadership. In fact, I don't think I have at all. What Michelle Obama did was that she fearlessly, and in the most dignified way, shared some of her core feelings. And by doing so, she connected to the core feelings of so many women (and men). She allowed her vulnerability to shine through and helped to legitimise our discomfort and anger in the face of both micro- and macro-aggressions against women.
And re-watching that speech, I learned a thing or two about leadership: it takes strength to be vulnerable in public, but being vulnerable in public is necessary to connecting with and empowering a crowd.