On Asking for Vulnerability, in brief
Conflict often puts us in a position where we have to choose whether or not to share something we’ve protected—to be vulnerable. Should I expose my secret? Should I voice my assumptions? Should I express my needs, wrongs, mistakes, or desires? Will this help me to bring about a meaningful change, or will it lead to punishment?
When invited, without a demand, being vulnerable can release us from constraints that kept us from change, can bring about connection, intimacy, and reciprocity—which can all be wonderful outcomes from a conflict.
There are also times when vulnerability is demanded as a condition of relationship, change, or access and is set forward as a trap. “Be vulnerable, or else—” or else I’ll leave, or else you can’t have support, or else things will remain the same, or else you won’t be protected. “Expose your deepest wounds, or else we can’t change the system.” “Expose the wrongdoer or else we can’t alter power dynamics.” Or else, or else.
A limited number of options are available within the laws, regulations, processes, and economies that keep an empire running—to create transformation requires admitting or enacting needs outside of what the empire provides, but the empire succeeds by punishing and suppressing those who try to transform it. To be honest about who we are and what we want can often come at the price of shame or alienation. To choose not to comply with laws and regulations that are outside our integrity can mean arrest and imprisonment. Within the confines of an empire, vulnerability is demanded without the assurance of affirming change.
So, how do we engage one another in vulnerability without falling into the limiting aspects of oppressive culture and society? If we are expecting or wanting vulnerability from others in conflict, we should consider three things:
Thriving & Well-being: If I ask this person/group to be vulnerable, what are the benefits, opportunities, and wellbeings generated from that vulnerability? Are the possibilities worth the risk?
Self-Determination: If I ask this person/group to be vulnerable, what happens if they choose not to be? What are the consequences of protecting oneself? Is there a price to saying no—and therefore do they actually have a choice?
Self-Expression: If I ask this person/group to be vulnerable, am I willing to change significantly, to make room for the parts of the person(s) that are ugly, unacceptable, or bring about shame? What am I willing to do or give to hold the pieces of them that they have been protecting?
If we want vulnerability from others (or ourselves) during conflict, we have to remember that conflict stems from a need for change. If that change is contingent on someone’s willingness to give us a part of themselves that they are protecting—how are we honoring that risk?
Opportunities to Learn + Act:
April 5, 7-9pm EDT. Abortion Access and the Fight Against Policing and Criminalization with Interrupting Criminalization. Register here.
April 7, 6pm - 8pm EDT. Mad Mapping: A Guide to Creating an Emotional Safety Plan with Fireweed Collective. Register here.
April 12, 3pm - 4pm EDT. Beyond the Ballet: Everyday Strategies for Collective Liberation with Prism. Register here.
The Second Transition Podcast—a podcast about transformation. (I particularly appreciated the episode with Kelsey Leonard).
Abolitionist Social Work Toolkit—a repository for information and resources on abolitionist social work practices.
Disability Justice: An Audit Tool created by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha and Stacey Park Milbern is aimed at examining where organizations are practicing disability justice and where they want to learn and grow.