The Vulnerability of Kindness

Vulnerability is scary.

Whether you’re a wildebeest parching your thirst from a possibly-crocodile-infested pond or a person sitting in a room about to tell someone a truth that you’ve hidden for a while, it’s frightening stuff. Your heart races. Your skin shines. Your muscles tense. Your voice shakes.

The truth of a situation is naked. Vulnerable. Exposed. We spend most of our life trying our best to avoid situations where we must admit the truth, see the truth, or otherwise open ourselves up to things that scare us.

But we run from vulnerability to our peril. There is fundamentally no way out of situations that require vulnerability. We are vulnerable creatures, each one of us fundamentally unable to create the world we want alone. Something will always be different than we’d choose — whether it’s sickness, weakness, or an urgent need for help. We simply are not omnipotent.

We can try to escape this reality, but only by fleeing into vices that distract our mind from it. You can get drunk. Get high. Get distracted. Get fat. Get conceited. Get selfish. Get mean. Get quiet. Get isolated. But none of those gets rid of the vulnerability that caused you to seek escape. They only mask it.

Kindness is about saying things people may read as weak, or stupid, or weird. About doing things without any guarantee you’ll receive anything in return.

Coping strategies put a rug over over the hole of vulnerability. It superficially seems we’ve rid the area of that unsightly hole, but someday when we’re not careful that hole will catch us. And then we’ll be at the bottom of a hole with a huge rug and anything else that rug brought down with us. We’ll be stymied down there in the hole, wrestling with all that stuff before we can even think about how we can get out.

Kindness is hard. And it is fundamentally about vulnerability. About laying yourself open, if only the smallest bit, so that someone else can accept that opening. Kindness is about saying things people may read as weak, or stupid, or weird. About doing things without any guarantee you’ll receive anything in return. You simply cannot do those things while you’re scared of being vulnerable.

Opening to vulnerability requires tremendous awareness. It requires you to escape the invulnerable bubble of your regular stories and patterns and actually sit there and keep going as your pulse quickens, your mind races, and you want anything to not have to go through with this thing. But you do it, not because it’s easy but because it’s important.

There is, to my knowledge, no quick shortcut to empowering brave vulnerability. You must try and you must feel the horror and you must, sometimes, feel stupid and foolish for having made the effort.

But sometimes you will also feel stupid and foolish for having found the effort so hard, because no catastrophe befalls you. And sometimes great things come from the effort. And as those experiences accumulate, you get more comfortable. You’re better able to be open and fully present and kind in the world. It’s hard work, but I’m not sure any work is more worthy.