The author uses social-science research to show the strength that can be found in “weaknesses.”
Brené Brown has taught Americans a lot about themselves — and about the human condition.
A longtime research professor at the University of Houston’s Graduate College of Social Work, Brown’s 2010 TEDx Houston talk, “The Power of Vulnerability,” has been viewed more than 21 million times and is one of the top five most viewed TED talks ever.
Her two books, “Daring Greatly” and “The Gifts of Imperfection,” each reached No. 1 on The New York Times best-seller list.
But for the life of her, Brown can’t grasp why rooms around the country sell out for her appearances, as Seattle’s Town Hall has for her Sept. 16 talk in support of her new book, “Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution.”
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 16, Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Avenue; sold out (206-652-4255 or townhallseattle.org).
What are people looking for?
Brown, 49, has perfected a formula that turns her social-science research data into living, breathing tales of common human experiences — a breakup, a death, a disappointment. It’s not just numbers and findings. It’s familiar.
What makes Brown different from others in the self-help business is that she focuses on ways to transform weak-yet-powerful emotions like vulnerability and shame into courage and worthiness.
So does Brown have what we need right now? Is that why she sells out?
“I have no idea,” Brown said the other day from her home in Houston, where she couldn’t have been further from the adoring crowds — she was chopping up bell peppers for her fourth-grade son’s guinea pigs.
“It is so shocking to me that they sell out, and so quickly,” she continued. “It’s really exciting and scary. And I guess the exciting and scary thing is my new normal.”
It’s not really about her anyway, she said. It’s about the work she has done — hundreds of interviews and months of distilling and writing — and the community that has gathered around it.
“I think these are conversations that people want to have,” she said. “I would say they want to be braver. I would say they want what I want — to be more courageous with their lives.”
Brown’s work acknowledges all this, but also urges people on.
She described her first book, “The Gifts of Imperfection,” was her way of saying, “Be You.”
Her second book, “Daring Greatly,” told readers, “Be all in.”
“Rising Strong” is there when they’ve followed her advice, and failed: “Fall. Get up. Try again.”
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“The people who have had the courage to fall, or they loved somebody and there was heartbreak, or there was a failure at work,” Brown explained, “those folks have a tenacity and a compassion that really contributes to their wholeheartedness.
“Some people open their eyes and say, ‘I’m going to learn from this,’ and other people just close their eyes.”
It all starts with defying the self-defeating stories we make up about ourselves, Brown writes, and reclaiming the truth about our lovability, divinity and creativity.
“Just because someone isn’t willing or able to love us,” she writes, “it doesn’t mean we are unlovable.”
Many of her study subjects expressed shame around religion, but remained spiritual nonetheless. Brown concluded that the shame came from the man-made rules of religion and the expectations around them — and not the subject’s own personal relationship with God.
“Our faith narratives must be protected,” Brown writes, “and we must remember that no person is ordained to judge our divinity or to write the story of our spiritual worthiness.”
We need to do the same with our creativity, our work.
“Just because we didn’t measure up to some standard of achievement doesn’t mean that we don’t possess gifts and talents that only we can bring to the world,” Brown writes. “Just because someone failed to see the value in what we can create or achieve doesn’t change its worth or ours.”
When faced with a critical comment from a co-worker, or something as big as a breakup, our emotions take the first hit. So we respond without thought, but with lots of anger, or sadness, food or fast driving. Whatever makes us feel better.
Only later does the furnace of our minds click on to try to break down what happened. That’s when she urges readers to “rumble with the truth.”
“I love the word because I thought about ‘West Side Story,’ ” she said with a laugh. “It’s a dance with the truth. It’s going into something knowing it is going to be uncomfortable. This is going to be difficult, this is going to be long. But it matters to me more than my comfort.”
For instance, the country is in the midst of rumbling with the truth on the issue of racism.
Those “uncomfortable conversations” need to continue, she said, but in safe places.
“The silence of white folks, that is not going to work,” Brown said. “Because our voices are critical to the discussion about what we can do differently.
“Our comfort is the ultimate privilege,” she said. “And when we stay quiet because it’s uncomfortable, that is an absolute form of racism.”
Once we learn how to rumble and rise, Brown said, we are emboldened to live better lives, speaking with our true selves and whole hearts.
“There is no greater threat to the cynics, critics and fearmongers,” she wrote, “than those of us who know how to rise.”
The country is filled with people who feel small and unheard, Brown said. That’s part of why a bully like Donald Trump is doing so well in the polls.
Trump “has tapped into fear, rage, scarcity. Things that every single one of us feel,” Brown said. “Tapped into it and leveraged it.
“If you can keep people afraid, you can do anything,” she continued. “And the people who come to see me are the people who are tired of being afraid. The opposite of afraid is courageous, authentic and vulnerable.
“We’re so tired of the hustle,” she said. “We’re sick of being afraid and hustling for our self-worth.”
Though Brown has been sought out by corporations, the military and Oprah, she sees herself as a wife and mother of two, living in Houston, immersed in the universal dilemmas of marriage and parenting, like whether to allow her teenaged daughter to attend a music festival.
“In some ways I’m packing lunches and doing carpool and emptying the dishwasher and in other ways, I sold out a show in a day in Seattle, and that’s insane to me. I’m so perplexed by the whole thing. I guess …”
Here there was a long pause. I waited for Brown to think.
“It’s amazing to do work that you really love and that matters. I guess I’m just really busy and really grateful.
“We’re so much better at inflicting pain than dealing with our own pain. There are repercussions to not giving ourselves our own time and attention.”