Why Vulnerability Is A Strength
Watching an entertaining TV show is supposedly relaxing, but who says you can’t relax and learn at the same time? A case in point was America’s Got Talent a few days ago, which was a catalyst to some great insights.
The first act that caught my attention was a Japanese troupe riding on unicycles. The spectacle was very acrobatic and well-choreographed. At the very beginning, though, one of the riders stumbled and fell, then promptly got back on the saddle and the show went on. I greatly enjoyed this troupe and would have probably voted for them were it not for that glitch in their performance. Except that this mishap actually had an interesting effect on me: it increased, rather than decrease, my propensity to vote for them and the urgency of doing so!
For me, they were great and I would have hated for them to be eliminated because of a minor incident that could happen to anyone. Interestingly, the four “judges” in the show agreed with me: when it turned out, the next day, that the unicycle group had not managed to obtain enough viewer votes to go on to the next phase, the judges saved them over another competitor and mentioned the fall as one reason they were giving them a second chance. The whole episode highlighted for me the value of being vulnerable and showing your vulnerability.
The next act that marked me started very differently: a French lady, working on her own, was able to magically get in and out of a diverse and colorful wardrobe with elegance and charm. The whole thing was totally flawless, not a hint of vulnerability. When she was finished, the judges were asked to comment. The first to speak, as I recall, was Heidi Klum, who had been her most vocal supporter in earlier rounds, and who has a background in fashion. She was very complimentary and very supportive. Following her was Howie Mandel, who also voiced his unequivocal encouragement. After Howie, came Sofia Vergara’s turn and she was also very positive, but said something like: “the costumes you have designed are so elegant, one doesn’t suspect they are made of paper”.
Now, given that the TV audience is not close enough to see the material the costumes are made of, that sounded to me like an underhanded compliment. I love Sofia Vergara, one of my favorite actresses, but I kept asking myself whether she had made this remark absentmindedly or whether she had deliberately cheapened the wardrobe and revealed one of the secrets behind the act. It reminded me of my own experience, when it often happened that a jealous colleague would undermine my accomplishments with innocent-sounding words. These would hurt me much more than outright hostility, so my blood started to boil and whatever admiration I had for the lady metamorphosed into unconditional and enthusiastic support! But, as luck would have it, she was also the recipient of said outright hostility: after Sofia, came Simon Cowell’s turn, and he was overtly negative, saying that while it was a great performance, it didn’t rise to the level the artist had achieved during the qualifications a few weeks back.
At this point, the other judges disagreed with him, led by Heidi and Howie. For me, she was now being bullied, and that reminded me of a few episodes of my own childhood at school. The French lady had now come to embody, in my mind, the plight of victims of injustice in this world: she had done a really superb job, and, while being celebrated and encouraged by the majority, she also, through no fault of her own, had also endured unjustified (in my opinion) putdowns and bullying. I felt that, if I only did one thing in my entire life, it would have to be the act of voting for her!
SEE ALSO: How To Be Mindful In Key Areas Of Life
Effect of vulnerability
As I later reflected on these two acts, I decided that showing vulnerability makes you human and elicits empathy, making people want to help you and be on your side. By contrast, being completely flawless and unassailable, makes others classify you as different from them, and less likely to intervene on your behalf. Vulnerability is a powerful way of establishing connections.
But other acts in the show demonstrated to me that it is not enough to elicit emotional kinship: in the same two-hour program, there were many other acts that had incidents and were bullied by one or more of the judges and they didn’t affect me one way or the other. When I asked myself why, I realized that these acts were average or mediocre. For an act to get my attention in the first place, it had to be excellent; by showing vulnerability, it reinforced an existing bond that was created by its excellence. Therefore, an act must first be top-notch before showing vulnerability. People want to protect someone who they feel is worth protecting, otherwise there simply would be too many people to protect!
Relationships follow these same rules: we want to interact with someone who will bring us value, but it must be someone for whom we can also provide value. When you’re with a person who always needs your help and gives you nothing in return, you feel used; and conversely when you’re with someone who totally doesn’t need you, you feel uneasy. For the relationship to work, it should be balanced. This is the basis for creating a strong network.
One of my friends, Jaclyn, is the best networker I know: she has a huge web of friends and acquaintances and is constantly helping out people through this structure. One of her secrets: if she meets you and finds that you could be of value to her network, she will be the first to ask you for a favor. She wants to make you feel needed, so you will be later at ease asking her for a favor later. She has done favors for so many people, and so many of them have done favors to her or to others through her, that her network keeps growing by itself, without any kind of maintenance. For most of her friends, she is top of mind if they need anything, and, conversely, they relish the prospect of being able to help her. She has found the balance between needing and being needed by displaying her vulnerability, knowing that people are already aware of her strength through her reputation.
In other words: build your strength, but show your vulnerability. Life is a partnership, not a combat.
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