Humans have never been the biggest, baddest animals in the jungle. We lack fangs and claws. We're not all that strong. Compared to many predators, we don’t move very fast. We are, in fact, vulnerable.
Human vulnerability has always been a mixed bag. Opening ourselves to love brings joy and a sense of belonging. Love also makes us susceptible. Sometimes there is rejection and we lament. Sometimes there is betrayal and we brood. Sometimes there is death and we grieve. But through it all, our vulnerability is a doorway to deep connections, profound insights and renewal.
In Teen World, however, vulnerability is seen as a curse. Many teens work overtime at hiding their humanity behind a mask of social aggression, which, in Teen World, can be viewed as a sign of power. If you are hurt or embarrassed, show aggravation. If you are disappointed or scared, show cold indifference. If you secretly love someone, show contempt, otherwise you are a wuss. A wimp. A desperate and pathetic loser. At least that’s what they want you to believe.
We are mistaken when we buy into the notion that hostility is power and vulnerability is weakness. Our strength comes from our vulnerability. Counter-intuitive? Perhaps. After all, the word vulnerable derives from the Latin vulnere, meaning “to wound." And a wounded person is not "strong." Or is she? Our vulnerable emotions can be our most authentic and humane responses. That’s why, when I meet a teen (or adult) holding himself back from being emotionally vulnerable, I feel compelled to teach something about true strength, because that individual is in need of an education.
Unless we can embrace our vulnerability we cannot reach our full human potential. All we will manage is to build walls that prevent us from understanding and being understood. But if, instead, we taught kids to honor their vulnerability, we’d help them recognize how we all experience the same emotions. With this knowledge young people could learn to empathize with each other.
Schools that encourage and reward students for expressing their humanity graduate people of good character. When it comes to how we treat each other, these graduates have learned to set the bar very high for themselves and for their peers. Isn’t this what creating positive school climates is all about?