As a follow up to her 2010 TEDxHouston talk on vulnerability, Brene Brown returns to the TED stage with a very moving and insightful talk about shame, and the epidemic of shame in our country.
Here are a few of my favorite soundbites from her transcript and you can access the video below:
I’m going to tell you a little bit about my TEDxHouston Talk. I woke up the morning after I gave that Talk with the worst vulnerability hangover of my life. And I actually didn’t leave my house for about three days.
Vulnerability is not weakness. I define vulnerability as emotional risk, exposure, uncertainty. It fuels our daily lives. And I’ve come to the belief — this is my 12th year doing this research — that vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage — to be vulnerable, to let ourselves be seen, to be honest.
One of the weird things that’s happened is, after the TED explosion, I got a lot of offers to speak all over the country — everyone from schools and parent meetings to Fortune 500 companies. And so many of the calls went like this, “Hey, Dr. Brown. We loved your TEDTalk. We’d like you to come in and speak. We’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t mention vulnerability or shame.” (Laughter) What would you like for me to talk about? There’s three big answers. This is mostly, to be honest with you, from the business sector: innovation, creativity and change. So let me go on the record and say, vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change. (Applause) To create is to make something that has never existed before. There’s nothing more vulnerable than that. Adaptability to change is all about vulnerability.
And I did not learn about vulnerability and courage and creativity and innovation from studying vulnerability. I learned about these things from studying shame. There’s a great quote that saved me this past year by Theodore Roosevelt. A lot of people refer to it as the “Man in the Arena” quote. And it goes like this: “It is not the critic who counts. It is not the man who sits and points out how the doer of deeds could have done things better and how he falls and stumbles. The credit goes to the man in the arena whose face is marred with dust and blood and sweat. But when he’s in the arena, at best he wins, and at worst he loses, but when he fails, when he loses, he does so daring greatly.”And that’s what this conference, to me, is about. That’s what life is about, about daring greatly, about being in the arena. When you walk up to that arena and you put your hand on the door, and you think, “I’m going in and I’m going to try this,” shame is the gremlin who says, “Uh, uh. You’re not good enough. You never finished that MBA. Your wife left you. I know your dad really wasn’t in Luxembourg, he was in Sing Sing. I know those things that happened to you growing up. I know you don’t think that you’re pretty enough or smart enough or talented enough or powerful enough. I know your dad never paid attention, even when you made CFO.” Shame is that thing.
And if we can quiet it down and walk in and say, “I’m going to do this,” we look up and the critic that we see pointing and laughing, 99 percent of the time is who? Us. Shame drives two big tapes — “never good enough” and, if you can talk it out of that one, “who do you think you are?” The thing to understand about shame is it’s not guilt. Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame is “I am bad.” Guilt is “I did something bad.” How many of you, if you did something that was hurtful to me, would be willing to say, “I’m sorry. I made a mistake?” How many of you would be willing to say that? Guilt: I’m sorry. I made a mistake. Shame: I’m sorry. I am a mistake.
There’s a huge difference between shame and guilt. And here’s what you need to know. Shame is highly, highly correlated with addiction, depression, violence, aggression, bullying, suicide, eating disorders. And here’s what you even need to know more. Guilt, inversely correlated with those things. The ability to hold something we’ve done or failed to do up against who we want to be is incredibly adaptive. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s adaptive.
The other thing you need to know about shame is it’s absolutely organized by gender. Shame feels the same for men and women, but it’s organized by gender.
Shame, for women, is this web of unobtainable, conflicting, competing expectations about who we’re supposed to be. And it’s a straight-jacket.
For men, shame is not a bunch of competing, conflicting expectations. Shame is one, do not be perceived as what? Weak.
So I started interviewing men and asking questions. And what I learned is this: You show me a woman who can actually sit with a man in real vulnerability and fear, I’ll show you a woman who’s done incredible work. You show me a man who can sit with a woman who’s just had it, she can’t do it all anymore, and his first response is not, “I unloaded the dishwasher,” but he really listens — because that’s all we need — I’ll show you a guy who’s done a lot of work.
Shame is an epidemic in our culture. And to get out from underneath it, to find our way back to each other, we have to understand how it affects us and how it affects the way we’re parenting, the way we’re working, the way we’re looking at each other.
If we’re going to find our way back to each other, we have to understand and know empathy, because empathy’s the antidote to shame. If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive. The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: “me too.”