This week, I have been thinking a lot about self-preservation versus vulnerability.
It is human nature to protect everything that makes us feel comfortable, secure, and powerful. The bad thing about self-preservation is that it does not care how it holds on to comfort and security. In the interest of protecting ones’ own interests, self-preservation ignores the interests of others. It does not care what it has to destroy in the process. If self-preservation takes the lead, it will always set itself above the rest. Self-preservation is a display of strength that is devoid of any actual power.
I discovered that the real power is in vulnerability. Vulnerability is a threat to self-preservation because it is proof that a person does not have to appear strong in order to be tough. Vulnerability enables a person to take the biggest risks. There cannot be love where there is no vulnerability. There is no acceptance where there is no vulnerability. There can be no compassion where there is no vulnerability. There can be no success without vulnerability. There can be no genuine kindness where there is no vulnerability.
Self-preservation robs a person of his or her true self because it is reliant on a carefully constructed image. Vulnerability restores because it is reliant on the qualities that the person already has. Self-preservation is sometimes a false friend because it prevents a person from discerning whether threats are real or imaginary. It is continually fighting for survival, in spite of the fact that it is not in danger of destruction.
Vulnerability represents the deconstruction of the graven image that is self-preservation. It is treating people with respect, whether they deserve it or not. It is showing up and doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do. It is working to do your best in all that you do, so at the end of the day, you can say you have done everything in your power to succeed. It is making a mistake and admitting it without making excuses.
Self-preservation is the image. Vulnerability is the real thing.
One of my favourite movies is Enter the Dragon. My favourite scene (and inspiration and namesake for this post) is when Lee fights Han in the museum of mirrors. At first, this disorients Lee. The mirrors make it difficult to see where Han is, so it looks as though Han has the upper hand. (Or claw. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I mean.) Lee remembers the voice of his sensei, Shaolin Abbot: “Remember:the enemy has only images and illusions behind which he hides his true motives. Destroy the image, and you will break the enemy.” Lee then breaks all of the mirrors and uses Han’s own spear to defeat him.
Humans are born with a survival instinct because we need one. However, sometimes our need to protect our own interests ends up harming instead of helping. It takes wisdom–that I am currently, not in possession of, but hope to acquire–to know when to protect and when to pull all the walls down and be accessible.
Self-preservation prevents us from ingesting poisonous foods and from running into situations that might potentially endanger us. Self preservation also prevents us from seeking things that may benefit us because we are too concerned with the risks involved. It causes us to work against the people we are supposed to be helping, and push the people who are supposed to help us away. It causes us to hide our faults because we don’t want anyone else to know that we’re not perfect. It causes us to blame others for mistakes that we have made.
“Self preservation isn’t worth it if you can’t live with the self you’re preserving.” David Levithan, Everyday
I write this because I am in the middle of destroying some long-held illusions about myself. In the past couple of years, I have discovered that the qualities I previously thought to be weaknesses; kindness, compassion, empathy, forgiveness, acceptance, and tolerance, are actually strengths. They don’t look like strengths, but I have decided that I’d rather appear weak and have a lot of strength, than appear strong and have little.
In the bible, the apostle Paul wrote that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. (It all comes back to the Bible with me, folks. Get used to it.) In my life, would not have gained the strength I needed without first admitting that I was not strong. When I made the admission, I had to go through situations specifically set up to strengthen me. It was a strict regimen–only the training was for my mental and emotional fitness rather than physical. (Though, my physical strength, is nothing to scoff at either)
I am who I am, not because I can intimidate people with my loud voice, (nope!) my size, (definitely not), or how I speak (I’m silent around 50% if the time). I’m not any smarter than anyone else. I’m not wiser, or bigger or badder. I am who I am because I know my weaknesses. I allow myself the grace to make mistakes without feeling shame about them. I know what I’m good at. I know what motivates me, and I know how I cope with stress. (By Working out, and then naps.) I can endure tough times and not allow them to defeat me. Most importantly, I have faith in someone and something greater than me. If I choose self-preservation, it means that I don’t trust God.
In the interest if self-preservation, I won’t eat anything that doesn’t look or smell right, and I won’t rush toward danger (unless, of course, someone needs my help). If a person has already betrayed me three times, I’d be hesitant to trust them so they can betray me once more, (Hey there, Delilah) But, me being dishonest so I can conform to the image others have of me has been over for a long time.
I am at my best when I am vulnerable because that is when my actions most closely resemble those of Jesus. Even if my vulnerability costs me, I don’t want to change.
Destroying the image breaks the enemy.
- Vulnerability and Shame- Brene Brown (sunshinedreamsandmamathings.wordpress.com)
- What Happens When You Make Yourself Vulnerable (thoughtcatalog.com)
- Strength and vulnerability (littlegreybox.net)
- The Paradox of Vulnerability (selfdiscoverydigest.com)