The old American adage of “pulling oneself up by the bootstraps” is as false a statement as the childhood saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” and yet we continue to promote the idea of independence and self-protectionism without regard to the overwhelming evidence of the ways these ideals are hurting our society.
Let me back-up a minute. I have had the opportunity this past week to ride the rollercoaster of humanity. At the beginning of the week, I was able to hear from educators about the ways that Opportunity Thrive’s work impacted them personally. One of the teachers stated that part of the benefit was knowing that she worked in a safe space, where her personal health was valued. A few days later, I watched a friend bury her husband whose inner struggles seemingly became too great for him to want to stay on this earth. I heard from countless individuals about the ways they struggled to contextualize his death: how could none of us have known the depths of his pain?
Today, I visited a local nonprofit whose mission is to care and advocate for victims of abuse. They recently moved into a new space, and the building layout was created with intention to provide distinct separation between a space in the building where team members work on their difficult and painful cases and a space where self-care and collaboration are paramount. In fact, in a building with only 17 full-time staff, they dedicated square feet to a small workout room and a relaxation space.
The commonality in all of these experiences is a deep need for communal vulnerability. Vulnerability is not a way for us to unload on everyone around us. Instead, it is a space where we open ourselves up to the possibility of not knowing everything, of needing others, and of recognizing the way that our pain is not unique. When we talk about communal vulnerability, then, we speak of systems that allow us to be present to one another’s doubts, creativity, pain, joy, and failures. Communal vulnerability is a space where we recognize that together, even with our inadequacies and fallibility, we can do far more than we can alone.
We need systems and communities that help each other pull up our bootstraps of life. Isolation and independence foster more stress. And, I don’t know about you, but I could use a little less of that in my life.