Wholehearted Lives

The phrase used in the title of this inspirational piece comes from listening to Brene Brown, who offers insight on one of the most viewed TED talks of all time.  Brown is a researcher in social work at the University of Houston.  The title of her famous presentation is “Listening to Shame.”  She links shame to vulnerability.  I have watched it more than once.  She is insightful, poignant and funny.  Much of the humor comes at her own expense.  That often is a good recipe for humor.  You are funny and no one gets hurt.
I also have run into Brown as I am finishing Krista Tippett’s wonderful book, Becoming Wise.  Tippett refers to and interacts with Brown in the final chapter of the book, which is entitled, “Hope.”  It is fair to say that Brown stumbled onto vulnerability while she was looking at what made some people able to live what she calls “wholehearted lives.”  So Brown set off to study the topic.  She said, “I started coding data and looking for patterns and themes in words and they started emerging very quickly."  Ironically, the things Brown thought would make me and you wholehearted turned out not to be the case. 
Then she came up with an astonishing research question.  She said “I remember thinking: Does this mean our capacity for wholeheartedness can never be greater than our willingness to be brokenhearted?”  In a word, vulnerability, she had come up with the answer to wholeheartedness.  Many of us would agree that this surprises us.  People who are vulnerable---who are willing to risk brokenheartedness---are the people more likely to experience wholehearted lives.  I take this to mean, if I am not willing to risk---play it safe, in other words---I lower significantly my chances at a wholehearted life.
Then Brown takes it a step further in her interview with Tippett.  She notes, “I see students who come to us who have never had experiences, real experiences with adversity.”  I see this in my work with university students, too.  And sometimes I think I have been too careful with my own kids.  I mean, who wants to see your own kid get hurt?  And to avoid that, too often we shield them from being vulnerable.  If Brown is correct, we would never guess what we also are doing to them” shielding them from living wholeheartedly.
Brown’s next step fascinates me.  She claims, “One of the most interesting things I’ve found in doing this work is that the wholehearted share in common a profound sense of hopefulness.”  There is a tricky line of argument emerging here.  Be willing to be vulnerable seems to lead to more wholehearted lives and those lives are given the gift of hopefulness.  This is not good news for those of us committed to taking no risk or as little risk as we can.  Here I am not talking about risk in the sense of jumping out of planes, etc.  I am sure Brown has more in mind the risk necessary for authentic love and that kind of thing.  If you are not willing to risk, you really are not willing to love authentically.
I am intrigued by how this all links to hope.  Again, Tippett quotes Brown.  She says, “…hope is not an emotion.  Hope is a cognitive, behavioral process that we learn when we experience adversity, when we have relationships that are trustworthy, when people have faith in our ability to get out of a jam.”  It seems important to describe hope as something other than an emotion.  Of course, hope can be associated with some emotions.  But hope is a behavioral process that we learn.  To me that’s good news.
I would like to quote two final sentences from Tippett to round off this look at wholehearted living.  Tippett describes hope in an incredibly insightful fashion.  “Hope is brokenhearted on the way to becoming wholehearted.  Hope is a function of struggle.”  This is just one more clever way of saying the only real chance we have to live wholeheartedly is that we be willing to risk---that we opt for a life of being vulnerable.  Play it safe and miss the dance is a way I might put it. 
This seems so backward to many of us, it will be hard to adjust.  But apparently, we have a couple choices.  One choice is to think Brown, Tippett and the others are wrong.  How they link vulnerability, brokenheartedness, hope and wholeheartedness is just plain not the case.  Or the other choice is to assume they know what they are talking about and their claims are actually pretty accurate.  If so, then I need to change not only my mind, but the way I want to live.
I actually would like to experience a wholehearted life.  And to have this wholehearted life, I am willing to believe I have to change my mind and be willing to be more vulnerable.  It will require some faith, but hey, this is a spiritual journey.  I wonder if this is not what Jesus had in mind anyway?   

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