Yesterday I was cleaning up rubble from the deck-building project and I uncovered a pair of slugs. Not unusual around here, where they’re such legends that they’ve inspired all manner of slug lore including an old parody called “Sluggie, Come Home.”
But these weren’t PNW goliaths; just a couple squirmy little gray guys.
I flipped the old porch over and there they were on what used to be — and what suddenly was again — the porch top, and they rose up out of the dark, moist dirt.
They began to ooze sluggishly away, of course. Then they stopped. I wondered why. Looked closer. Ugh. They were melting into puddles of goo. Being baked to death.
It was rather horrible to watch. Not a quick demise.
This got me thinking about something unrelated.
When we hear the word “vulnerability” now, it’s usually in the context of hacker-exposed computers. Something unequivocally bad, which is as it should be.
Back when I was a young near-professional in California, the word was all over the place in another fashion.
If you were a 20-something in the artsy or adsy crowd, you were in therapy. If not individual therapy, then in an encounter group. If not in an encounter group, a psychodrama group. If not that, then you adhered to some bizarre new religion that claimed not to be a religion. Like est.
Many of these had a kind of mantra in common: “vulnerability.”
To transcend your old self and become a happier person, you had allow yourself to be vulnerable. Only after dropping your psychic armor and allowing the possibility of being hurt or disappointed, could you have a true breakthrough.
Now I was young, inexperienced, and there were many, many stupid, even wicked, things I nearly fell for in those days. I sometimes wonder now how I escaped the traps that wounded so many people i knew. But even then, even desperate to become enlightened or better at relationships or whatever the thing was, I was having none of “vulnerable.”
Sometimes being an abused kid has its uses. No matter how beseechingly some guru or counselor pushed vulnerability, I had already intuited what that meant and I wasn’t going that way.
Vulnerability: The condition in which you’re going to get hurt, even betrayed. Which is just part of human life. But you’re not going to see it coming — which makes it 10 times as painful. Worse, you’re have going to deliberately set yourself up to be suckerpunched.
What kind of expert or Great Teacher would expect such a thing of anyone? Even before I understood what the particular dangers were, I knew that was not a right thing.
And while I won’t go into the details (which are another story), it won’t surprise you to learn that one of my business friends nearly died at 31 from throwing himself into a toxic outfit called LifeSpring, and three of my friends felt themselves privileged — yes, privileged — to be sexually abused by their shared therapist (who by the way was still in practice when I looked him up a couple of years ago). And you know how many lives have been damaged by every Jim Jones, Guru This-or-That, or Werner Erhard by appealing exactly to that ethic.
If you can call it an ethic.
Those slugs yesterday. They were vulnerable and look what it got ’em.
Vulnerable is the kid trapped in some government school with a crazed former classmate on the loose. Vulnerable is when your husband’s having an affair with your best friend and you’re happily clueless. Vulnerable is when you give all your possessions to Jim Jones and follow him into a jungle death camp.
Similarly, my hackles go up at religious preaching about how everyone must “become as a child.”
But it’s not quite as negative. I can definitely see certain good things about returning to a child’s perceptions and dropping an adult’s preconceived notions. But the minute somebody claiming to be good buddies with The Almighty says “become as a child” — different meaning altogether.
Same with humility. There are excellent reasons for most of us to feel humble (as long as we’re not aiming to be billionaires or creative geniuses). Because ha-ha-ha, we have so much to be humble about, right?
And humility can give perspective and depth. It can help cool anger. It can put one in awe of the natural universe.
But when somebody wants you to believe in a god who thunders at some poor schmuck over his lack of humility, because apparently the all-powerful creator of the universe feels one fleeting human patriarch is unfair competition … something wrong with that picture. Big agenda. Can’t go there.
Vulnerability is worse, though. With vulnerability, I see no up side.
This is not an anti-religious rant. It’s just a me and human nature story. That I’m told I’ll go to hell merely for thinking such thoughts adds bitter spice.
I fully understand that everybody has a different take on vulnerability, trust in authority figures, belief without hard evidence, letting one’s hair down, or finding one’s inner child and hoping it isn’t primal screaming too loudly when you get there. This is just my view from my roots.
Still, I think about you guys out there, some religious and some not, but I think not very darned many of you into “vulnerability.” At least not where other mere humans are concerned. I think of you speaking softly but carrying a big stick.
I think about you being kind friends but not folks you’d want to rile.
I think about you having principles, understanding them and standing by them (rather than being so mentally vulnerable you’re forever being shifted in the moral and political winds). But also knowing yourself so well you can be both judicious and honest about occasionally bending those principles.
I think genuine people, like so many drawn to this blog, don’t ask vulnerability — or the bottomless unearned trust that and similar terms imply — as a precondition of being around them. I didn’t much like the guy who said it; still, “Trust, but verify” might be the best three words in the English language.
Better yet, don’t anybody either assume trust, withhold trust, or demand trust until there’s evidence to go by.
Friends don’t ask friends to be vulnerable.
Or weak. Or naive. Or physically helpless. Or uninformed. Or endlessly submissive. Or trusting of the demonstrably untrustworthy.