I think back to a quote from the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein that I came across in college: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”
I found this really interesting because I always assumed that my emotions responded to my body freaking out. But really, my emotions are responding to my “thinking” assessment of how well I can handle something.
In her book The Dance of Fear, Dr. Harriet Lerner writes, “It is not fear that stops you from doing the brave and true thing in your daily life. Rather, the problem is avoidance. You want to feel comfortable, so you avoid doing or saying the thing that will evoke fear and other difficult emotions. Avoidance will make you feel less vulnerable in the short run, but it will never make you less afraid.”
Similar sensations are labeled “anxiety” when we perceive them negatively and “excitement” when we perceive them positively.
In fact, this is one of the biggest myths of vulnerability. We’ve found that across cultures, most of us were raised to believe that being vulnerable is being weak. This sets up an unresolvable tension for most of us, because we were also raised to be brave. There is no courage without vulnerability. Courage requires the willingness to lean into uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.
Comparison is the crush of conformity from one side and competition from the other—it’s trying to simultaneously fit in and stand out. Comparison says, “Be like everyone else, but better.”
laughed so hard when he told me that due to the physics of how grass grows, when we peer over our fence at our neighbor’s grass, it actually does look greener, even if it is truly the same lushness as our own grass.
Communicating our expectations is brave and vulnerable. And it builds meaningful connection and often leads to having a partner or friend who we can reality-check with.
When someone shares their hopes and dreams with us, we are witnessing deep courage and vulnerability.
There are too many people in the world today who decide to live disappointed rather than risk feeling disappointment.
So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it: What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.
I love how researchers Ulrich Weger and Johannes Wagemann explain it. They write, “Wonder inspires the wish to understand; awe inspires the wish to let shine, to acknowledge and to unite.” When feeling awe, we tend to simply stand back and observe, “to provide a stage for the phenomenon to shine.”
The concept of optimal confusion is key to understanding why confusion is good for us and why it’s categorized as an epistemic emotion—an emotion critical to knowledge acquisition and learning. It turns out that confusion, like many uncomfortable things in life, is vital for learning. According to research, confusion has the potential to motivate, lead to deep learning, and trigger problem solving.
Sidney D’Mello found that when we’re trying to work through our confusion, we need to stop and think, engage in careful deliberation, develop a solution, and revise how we approach the next problem.
Choosing to be curious is choosing to be vulnerable because it requires us to surrender to uncertainty. We have to ask questions, admit to not knowing, risk being told that we shouldn’t be asking, and, sometimes, make discoveries that lead to discomfort.
And multiple experiments have shown that when experts express doubt, they become more persuasive. When someone knowledgeable admits uncertainty, it surprises people, and they end up paying more attention to the substance of the argument.
As Adam Grant writes, “Intelligence is traditionally viewed as the ability to think and learn. Yet in a turbulent world, there’s another set of cognitive skills that might matter more: the ability to rethink and unlearn.”
Vulnerability is the first thing we look for in other people, and the last thing we want to show them about ourselves.
Vulnerability is courage in you and inadequacy in me.
I was raised in a family where sarcasm was confused with intellectual ability and craft.
Their findings totally align with the hundred-thousand-plus comments from our community: We like to be moved. We like to feel connected to what it means to be human, to be reminded of our inextricable connection to one another. Sadness moves the individual “us” toward the collective “us.”
Their study revealed a “highly significant positive correlation between sadness and enjoyment.” However, this association is sequential. Sadness leads to feeling moved, which in turn leads to enjoyment. “Hence sadness primarily functions as a contributor to and intensifier of the emotional state of being moved.”
“When a person adapts to a loss grief is not over.” It doesn’t mean that we’re sad the rest of our lives, it means that “grief finds a place” in our lives. Imagine a world in which we honor that place in ourselves and others rather than hiding it, ignoring it, or pretending it doesn’t exist because of fear or shame.
The near enemy of compassion is pity. Instead of feeling the openness of compassion, pity says, “Oh, that poor person. I feel sorry for people like that.” Pity sees them as different from ourselves. It sets up a separation between ourselves and others, a sense of distance and remoteness from the suffering of others that is affirming and gratifying to the self. Compassion, on the other hand, recognizes the suffering of another as a reflection of our own pain: “I understand this; I suffer in the same way.” It is empathetic, a mutual connection with the pain and sorrow of life. Compassion is shared suffering.
This is one reason we need to dispel the myth that empathy is “walking in someone else’s shoes.” Rather than walking in your shoes, I need to learn how to listen to the story you tell about what it’s like in your shoes and believe you even when it doesn’t match my experiences.
In our leadership research, we’ve learned that achieving mastery requires curiosity and viewing mistakes and failures as opportunities for learning. Perfectionism kills curiosity by telling us that we have to know everything or we risk looking “less than.” Perfectionism tells us that our mistakes and failures are personal defects, so we either avoid trying new things or we barely recover every time we inevitably fall short.
Healthy striving is self-focused—How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused—What will they think?
“Never allow anyone to be humiliated in your presence.”
Together we fight to create change within ourselves and our communities because, as my favorite quote says, “Quisieron enterrarnos, pero no sabían que éramos semillas”…“They wanted to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.”
He explains, “To grow into an adulthood for a social species, including humans, is not to become autonomous and solitary, it’s to become the one on whom others can depend.
The brokenhearted are the bravest among us—they dared to love.
Integrity: You choose courage over comfort. You choose what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy. And you choose to practice your values rather than simply professing them.
Generosity: You extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words, and actions of others.
This research also helped me realize that it wasn’t just Steve who was getting overwhelmed. I get overwhelmed too. The difference is our strategies. He shuts down; I lash out.
I’m not sure there’s a braver sentence in the human catalog of brave sentences than “My feelings are hurt.” It’s simple, vulnerable, and honest. But we don’t say it very often.
One last note about hurt feelings: Researchers Mark Leary and Carrie Springer have interesting thoughts on the language of hurt feelings. Unlike most other emotions, the expression “hurt feelings” lacks obvious synonyms.
Robertson compares this to the Greek word for joy, which is chairo. Chairo was described by the ancient Greeks as the “culmination of being” and the “good mood of the soul.” Robertson writes, “Chairo is something, the ancient Greeks tell us, that is found only in God and comes with virtue and wisdom.
When I think about calm people, I think about people who can bring perspective to complicated situations and experience their feelings without reacting to heightened emotions.
As someone who has to work on calm as a practice rather than a trait, I’ve shortened this to two quick questions I ask myself when I feel fear, panic, or anxiety rising: Do I have enough information to freak out? The answer is normally no. Will freaking out help? The answer is always no.
The phrase “adapting to goodness” reminds me of a quote I’ve seen all over social media: “Remember the day you prayed for the things you have now.”
When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding. No emotion is more frightening than joy, because we believe if we allow ourselves to feel joy, we are inviting disaster. We start dress-rehearsing tragedy in the best moments of our lives in order to stop vulnerability from beating us to the punch.
But also, a person feeling contempt often wants or needs to feel better about themselves, and they do so by diminishing the person who is the object of their contempt. It’s no wonder that “research has shown that the contemptuous person is likely to experience feelings of low self-esteem, inadequacy, and shame.”
The researchers found that the average Republican and the average Democrat today suffer from a level of motive attribution asymmetry that is comparable with that of Palestinians and Israelis. Each side thinks it is driven by benevolence, while the other is evil and motivated by hatred—and is therefore an enemy with whom one cannot negotiate or compromise.
Contempt makes political compromise and progress impossible. It also makes us unhappy as people. According to the American Psychological Association, the feeling of rejection, so often experienced after being treated with contempt, increases anxiety, depression and sadness. It also damages the contemptuous person by stimulating two stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline.
Dehumanizing always starts with language, often followed by images. We see this throughout history. During the Holocaust, Nazis described Jews as Untermenschen—subhuman. They called Jews rats and depicted them as disease-carrying rodents in everything from military pamphlets to children’s books. Hutus involved in the Rwanda genocide called Tutsis cockroaches. Indigenous people are often referred to as savages.
What’s really fascinating is that hate is actually fueled by our need for connection. I call this common enemy intimacy. I may not know anything about you, but we hate the same people and that creates a counterfeit bond and a sense of belonging. I say “counterfeit” because the bond and belonging are not real, they hinge on my agreeing with you and not challenging the ideas that connect us.
I can sum up humility with one sentence that emerged from the research that informed Dare to Lead: I’m here to get it right, not to be right.