Posts Tagged With: vulnerability

Asking, Telling, and Making

I’m falling in love with Amanda Palmer a little backwards.

Over the holidays, some people overeat a little. I over-read a little (assuming there is such a thing). But I had a chance to read a lot of books. Good books. And the best of them, hands-down, and a complete surprise to me, was Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting, and it blew me away.

The reason I say I’m falling in love a little backwards is because Amanda Palmer isn’t primarily a book writer—she’s a song writer. And to be honest, I really hadn’t been a huge fan of her music. But reading her book made her a real person to me, and now I see a bravery and a beauty in her music that I really hadn’t seen before. And even now, some of her music is still pretty hit-and-miss with me, but that’s really okay.

I’d thought the book was going to be about her record-breaking Kickstarter campaign—which it was, but that was only the tip of the iceberg. What it was really about was relationships—the art of connecting with people as an artist, about sharing the excitement of stories and ideas and the interplay between any artist and their audience. It was about intimacy. About being seen. About inviting people into an experience where everyone is a willing participant.

Ever since I finished her book, the nature of asking has been on my mind. When we discover that we want something that involves another person, it’s kind of amazing, really, how vulnerable we make ourselves when we really, truly ask for it. Because there are other ways to get it.

Say you meet someone you like. You want to spend more time with them. Here’s a sampling of your options:

Asking: (Looks like: “Will you hang out with me?”) You’re acknowledging your desire with no guarantee you’ll receive what you want. You’re also making it clear that the decision isn’t yours. The power is theirs—they have the freedom to choose their own response. This makes you vulnerable.

Telling: (Looks like: “You should hang out with me.”) You’re implying you’re the one with the power, influencing their choice. But in any situation, people always have a choice. It can be a hard choice, but there’s always a choice. But in telling, you’re making them think they’re the vulnerable one. This is manipulation.

Making: (Looks like: “You will hang out with me.”) It’s not always so bluntly stated (it would be easier to deal with if it was), but in effect, you’re taking away their option to choose and taking what you want by force. You’re telling them they’re powerless, not just vulnerable. This is control.

Now granted, making is not always wrong. If parents only used the option of asking with their kids, I wonder how many kids would ever eat peas? Or try new things? In my own life, years of forced-march piano lessons (which I loathed passionately and complained about constantly) turned out to be the thing that allowed me to skip a year of music theory in college and let me hang out with more of my musician friends, one of whom had a roommate who turned out to be my husband who is hands-down my favorite person ever. So “making” in some relationships? Not always inappropriate. However, “making” doesn’t always have a silver lining like that, so you have to be really careful with it.

But in truly loving relationships, telling and making are never the best options. Because in the best relationships, asking is the only thing that ever winds up with people willingly spending time with each other, quietly watching a movie together, hiking ridiculously hard mountain trails together, laughing hysterically, hugging fiercely, and losing track of vast quantities of time together because they both want to be exactly there, and nowhere else, right then. Because they both chose. Because one of them asked. And the other said yes.

Now granted, sometimes we didn’t know exactly what we were saying yes to, especially in the case of crazy hard mountain hikes. But we did it anyway. And we’re pretty sure it was worth it.

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What Makes the Muskrat Guard His Musk?

Courage.

It’s not exactly what I thought it was. It’s not what the Cowardly Lion thought it was. (And, for what it’s worth, it’s not even exactly what the Wizard said it was, either, when he implied that running away from danger was wisdom.)

Even the dictionaries aren’t consistent on courage. Dictionary.com lists courage as “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery,” while the OED’s version defines courage as “the ability to do something that frightens one; bravery.”

Notice the difference? In the first definition, courage is doing something “without fear.” In the second, it’s doing something despite being afraid.

I’ve been eyeball-deep in the findings of Brené Brown lately, a social worker and researcher who’s been spending years studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and wholeheartedness. It wasn’t initially what she started out to do, and she ended up completely changing her whole perspective on what courage really is. It’s definitely opened my eyes to a few things. Hint: real courage is about being open. Sound counterintuitive? You’re not the only one.

This exploration has had enough of an impact on me that I’m going to keep this post short, for fear of getting a little wordy with admiration, but I’ll point you to her two talks on TED.com, which she gave several years apart. You can find them here and here. They’re really quite stellar, and they are an entertaining, sincere and fascinating snapshot into how she learned (through bona fide research) that courage is inextricably linked with vulnerability—something that surprised (and terrified) her more than she expected. Her most recent book, Daring Greatly, is a great place to start if you’re looking for a good book to pick up. (Although I am also a huge fan of I Thought It Was Just Me (But it Isn’t), which is a fascinating and practical look into perfectionism—which is also an interesting counterpoint to the traditional definition.)

And so. What makes the muskrat guard his musk? It’s still courage—it’s just not what I thought it was.

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