Whenever a man brags that he is “not afraid to be vulnerable,” I picture that scene in The Hobbit where Bilbo notices the dragon Smaug’s missing scale.
That’s what a vulnerability is.
“Here it is. This is how you get to my soft tissue. This is how you could ruin me, if you wanted to.”
I’m vulnerable. We are all “vulnerable.” We are monkeys made of meat. “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” Acknowledging that you are fallible and “vulnerable” is simply recognizing reality.
The life-loving and strong-willed response to recognizing a weakness is either to accept it and build strength in other areas, or to attempt to protect it or eliminate it. To don armor and raise ramparts. This is what one does if one wants to assert his interests in the world.
Another survival strategy is to roll over and display that vulnerability openly. But this is not a position of strength. This is how you communicate helplessness and show that you are not a threat. It is submissive, surrendering behavior that begs for mercy and relies on the kindness of others.
We find this endearing in creatures whom we want to help. My dog rolls over on his back because he is at home in his “safe space” and he knows that I would never hurt him, because I’ve built that trust with him.
But then, every farmer has had to kill an animal that trusted him, so it’s never quite a sure thing.
Men have always been the protectors of women and small children, so they naturally want to help them. When you offer your help to someone who needs it, and they graciously accept your assistance, it feels good. Men find some measure of vulnerability endearing in women, so women experience a more positive feedback loop when it comes to displaying vulnerability.
When someone encourages a man to “be more vulnerable,” or to talk about his fears and weaknesses openly, it makes sense tactically for him to be suspicious of their motives. Those who appear to be friends often turn out to be…farmers.
When cultish therapy groups or feminists tell men they “need” to be more vulnerable, men should ask “for me, or for you?”
As I watch various men’s improvement groups evolve, I see a lot of all-embracing affirmation language creep in from the social frames of women’s groups. Weakness is strength, obesity is healthy, ugliness is beautiful, losers are winners. “Every conceivable negative is a positive if it makes me feel good in the moment.” How magical it must be to live in a world of lies where all of your faults are re-framed as talents. I can certainly see the allure…
It is not insane to want to be identified by your strengths instead of your weaknesses. Refusing to carelessly share your problems with anyone who will listen is not the same as refusing to acknowledge that you have problems.
Stating your problems aloud is merely catharsis. Fixating on them is poisonous. Talking about problems without discussing an action plan for overcoming them may actually prevent progress.
A more productive approach to acknowledging a problem or a weakness is to think of yourself as an employee who is trying to increase his value in the eyes of his employer.
If you want to advance and take on a leadership role, you don’t just go to your boss with problems. You say, “I see a problem here and here’s a plan I came up with that I think might help solve it.”
Imagine a leader who announces to the public that, say, the economy is about to collapse, and then shrugs his shoulders and turns his palms up. He wouldn’t stay a leader long.
Be your own leader. Take responsibility for your own life.
If you don’t want to be your own leader, I’m sure you’ll be able to find someone willing to tell you what to do.
Establishing any kind of relationship means opening yourself up. You give or share something, the other entity reciprocates, and if that works out, you move to the next level.
This is how you build trust, and sooner or later you’re going to have to trust someone more than you’d trust any stranger on the street.
But even if you trust someone, it’s better — at the very least it is better for you — if you open yourself up in the context of solving a problem, or coming up with a plan for handling or mitigating your own weaknesses. Otherwise you’re just whining (at best) or giving someone easy ammunition (at worst). And you should never be proud of your weaknesses and shortcomings. To take pride in weakness devalues pride itself.
So, by all means, if you want to build a relationship or solve a problem, be “vulnerable” and expose a weakness.
Build trust with someone.
But watch out for farmers.