Authenticity vs vulnerability

In a recent conversation I was discussing with some colleagues vulnerability and behaviours associated with being vulnerable. The characteristics they mentioned were quiet, introspective, meek, calm. My immediate reaction was, wait it’s not just these characteristics which show that a person is vulnerable. Some of the most vulnerable people I know are those that scream, refuse to engage in conversation, and put up walls all around them. Why is it though that we don’t immediately associate vulnerability with these behaviours? Why are those behaviours seen as more acceptable and are revered as they demonstrate toughness?

Any behaviour which goes to an extreme means that the person is scared and feels that they have lost control. Behaving in a vulnerable manner is a reaction to an external influence. Whereas authenticity is driven from within: in philosophical terms it’s a way of dealing with your environment in a manner faithful to internal ideas than only external ideas.

In working with teams, some colleagues refer to individuals in teams needing to get more vulnerable. And what they mean is that they need to become more aware of their external environment. I look at it as needing to get more authentic; what do you want to bring, what triggers you to be defensive when you feel that you are attacked, and how do you remain resilient and open to listen in face of that?

My boss recently shared with me his metaphor for resilience. Imagine yourself as a sponge; you can choose to be completely permeable and let everything seep into you, or you can choose to wrap yourself in saran wrap and let nothing come in. There is a middle ground, choosing to be a sponge with oil in the middle. Staying true to yourself while also learning and engaging with your environment. Vulnerability is not productive in any shape or form; but people respect and admire authenticity because authentic are like the semi-permeable sponge. True to what they believe in yet open to engage with others in a non-defensive manner.

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