In praise of vulnerability

If there’s anything we need less of, it’s inauthenticity.

Perhaps it was the ‘no make- up selfie for Cancer Research’ thing that got me thinking about it.  Don’t get me wrong, it was for a great cause, and it was lovely to see bare faces celebrated. But it was almost as though showing the world what we really look like was a significant moment for some. I suppose in a world where make-up is advertised constantly, where Photoshop lies to you and Instagram filters are always to hand, it’s not too surprising that the novelty of a woman’s natural face can become part of a fund-raising campaign.

If going out without make-up is a big deal to some, how much scarier it must be to bare your soul, in a society as fake as the one we live in. As well as a mask of cosmetics to hide our dark circles and hormonal acne, how many of us put on masks of neutrality to hide the parts of ourselves we don’t want exposed?

The answer is that we all do this, probably every day.

Masks are not always bad. In fact they are quite appropriate much of the time. Blurting out to your boss that you think he’s an insensitive jerk could prove to be disastrous, for example. There are social boundaries for very good reasons.

But the British culture, I think, has perfected the art of assuming a demeanour of mildness, and it can be quite suffocating. Any excess of emotion is seen as unnecessary and embarrassing unless you are drunk (which is interesting if you think about it). This is all slightly tongue in cheek, of course- British reserve can be endearing too- but I wonder if we’d be happier if we were more open sometimes. My experience of living abroad, meeting people from many cultures, suggests that this might be true.

I was flicking through my bible the other day, and some verses really stood out to me about the heart. Psalm 139:1 says ‘You have searched me, Lord, and you know me’; Proverbs 20:27 says ‘The spirit of a man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all the depths of his heart’. To be so utterly known can seem daunting at times but also very comforting. I love that I can admit before God everything that I think and feel, knowing He already sees. With God I can be completely vulnerable, and the beauty of it is that what I entrust to Him is safe. He will never abuse my heart or my trust.

But humans will and do, and this is why we put up barriers. We find it hard to take them down even for people we deem worthy. And you know what? Some people don’t care enough to deserve the whole truth from you.  Proverbs 4:23 says ‘Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.’ I’d be the last to tell you to wear your heart on your sleeve if it doesn’t like being out there. Mine definitely feels more comfortable tucked away most of the time.

Yet to share with somebody who will not betray or judge you is a beautiful thing; sometimes it’s worth taking that risk.

I would rather risk getting my heart bruised by being sincere, than to put up walls too high. Years ago I thought that being emotional was weak; that I had to be tough. I couldn’t have been more wrong, because there is an enormous amount of strength in admitting you’re weak. It’s OK to not be OK.

I think we would all do well to be sincere in what we say. I was talking to a friend the other day who said this, and I think she’s right. There’s value in being genuine. When we ask ‘how are you?’, let’s mean it, and be OK with an honest response. It offers a listening ear, it says ‘hey I care about you’ even if you can’t do anything to help that person. If you don’t want to be inconvenienced by someone’s honesty, maybe it’s better not to ask.

Sylvia Plath once said: ‘So many people are shut up tight inside themselves like boxes, yet they would open up, unfolding quite wonderfully, if only you were interested in them.’ At the heart of all of us is a longing to be appreciated and accepted.

So let’s be mindful of one another; let’s give others the time and consideration we want to be given. Let’s be compassionate instead of merely curious, searching for the gold in people. Let’s build relationships that encourage openness, and offer a bit more of ourselves to the people we trust.

Let’s be brave and get real.