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From Vol. 4, Issue 12, December 2022

Having the courage to be yourself

Feature || Brandon Tumblin

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Vulnerability is a bit of a buzzword these days. It’s often said that you need to “be vulnerable” in relationships to become closer to the person. Hence, it is seen as a virtue. But what does it really mean to be vulnerable? And is it Stoic?

What is vulnerability?

When people say, “be vulnerable”, really what they mean is that you should put your guard down and open up. It means that you should tell other people what you really feel, what you’re going through, and what you’ve been through. In one phrase, perhaps we could say that being vulnerable means “letting people in”.

The next time that you go out into the world, look around. The chances are that each person you see is struggling with something (yes, even that guy driving the fancy sports car). Despite getting through our day, many are dealing with very complicated messes internally. That’s why kindness is a virtue because you really have no idea what people are going through.

Vulnerability is letting people see this side of you, the brokenness, the baggage, and even the evil. It’s not an easy thing to do. It requires saying “there are some things I’m dealing with internally that I’m barely willing to think about. If I open up to you and let you in, I simultaneously open myself up to be judged, potentially harshly. These are the things that I am deeply ashamed of, some because I’m embarrassed that I was foolish enough to let this happen to me, and others because I was evil enough to do it to other people.”

I can tell you: everyone has something about themselves that they don’t like that they would rather do away with. And to admit to that, openly, in the presence of someone takes courage. Many people can’t even admit to themselves that these parts of them exist. Why would we be willing to admit that we have some parts of ourselves that are not fully realized, or that are inherently evil?

Vulnerability as an act of courage

When we think of courage, images of running into enemy fire come to mind. But courage (in the Stoic sense) also means fortitude and strength. When we’re talking about something like vulnerability, which is letting people see all sides of you – good, bad, and ugly – it certainly takes a tremendous amount of courage to do this.

We could say that vulnerability is having the courage to be yourself. In other words, we could say that vulnerability is having the courage to live according to your personal nature. But we can also be even more clear on the word courage in the Stoic sense.

Vulnerability is having the courage and strength to live according to your personal nature.

A lot of people confuse vulnerability with weakness, and this is not only untrue, but it’s an anti-truth. Vulnerability is an act of strength. When you choose to be vulnerable, what you are philosophically saying is:

“I am going to have the courage and strength to be my full self, and that makes me vulnerable because I am arming you with the truth about myself, which you could then use to take advantage of me. However, because I am strong, I know that if that happens, I’ll be just fine. I’m willing to take that risk because if you take advantage of me, I have the strength to handle it, but if you don’t, then maybe we can have a genuine connection.”

Vulnerability and strength

It's easy to see, then, that one’s level of vulnerability is often tied to one’s level of strength. In other words, only the strong can be truly vulnerable. And what are the outer limits of that? Sure, it’s an act of strength and courage to be yourself in front of one person, but what about opening up to the world itself? Then, not only could one person take advantage of you, but the whole world could!

Choosing to live in accordance with your own nature for the world to see means honouring who you are and being genuine to yourself. What do you like? What defines your personality? Who are you, truly?

And if you do that, you not only open yourself up to a deeper connection with one person but to the cosmos herself.

Brandon is most well-known for his podcast, The Strong Stoic Podcast, where he discusses philosophical ideas both solo and with guests. He also coaches individuals to help them be their best selves, writes articles, plays music, manages projects, and several other things.