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Just say no to vulnerability

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.

9 Comments

  1. Jorge
    Jorge June 20, 2018 6:52 pm

    I suspect we are close to the same age. I was in my 20s when the vulnerability craze and est were happening.

    Along with “vulnerability” there was also “release control.” I had a girlfriend who constantly insisted I had to “let go” and “release control.” No way. While I was unable to explain it then I always knew that I was the only one responsible for my life. I had to be in control. I could not be vulnerable. Not and fulfill my responsibilities, to myself and others.

  2. Claire
    Claire June 20, 2018 7:36 pm

    “I could not be vulnerable. Not and fulfill my responsibilities, to myself and others.”

    Bingo. Or fulfill your responsibilities to yourself.

    Even with the vulnerability pitch long in the past, there’s still that eternal truth that some people always want others to be weak and uncertain of themselves so they can dominate and use them.

  3. Ron Johnson
    Ron Johnson June 21, 2018 3:44 am

    I’ve spent my life eliminating vulnerability. Nothing makes a person more scared and anxious than the sense of being vulnerable to disease, poverty, loneliness, and betrayal. Nothing makes a person more free than getting to a place in his life where his sense of confidence, borne of experience and preparation, can say out loud “Bring it on, Bitch,” and mean it.

    I came of age about the same time you did, Claire, but I missed the whole psycho-babble thing on the left coast. My Midwest roots were more concrete and practical. The closest I got was reading Nathaniel Branden, who I credit with showing me the way out of periodic depression. The idea of following a guru unquestioningly was ruined for me once I inhaled the most essential concepts professed by Ayn Rand concerning Reality, Consciousness, Rationality, Individualism (which I learned early on she violated by insisting on agreement or expulsion from her group). I don’t do well in groups.

    It’s hard to watch any living thing die, even a slug. A terrible reminder of the inevitable vulnerability of all life, but an equal reminder to put up the good fight for as long as possible because that is life, too.

  4. Pat
    Pat June 21, 2018 5:12 am

    “Even with the vulnerability pitch long in the past, there’s still that eternal truth that some people always want others to be weak and uncertain of themselves so they can dominate and use them.”

    “The vulnerability pitch long in the past.” I see this from a different approach. Are we hardwired to be always looking for the advantage over someone else? Is life itself hardwired to be predator-prey, weak vs strong? Or is it possible we can outgrow (evolve from) that vulnerability today?

    Where do the concepts of equality, respect for fellow man, “good will,” and compassion come from? Where have humans gotten the idea that life should be more than an animalistic battle for power? Perhaps the vulnerability pitch is merely an “old world”/prehistoric reaction against the newer, more humane concepts.

    History tells us when humans began to think and conjure up ideas like good and bad, right and wrong. But before that, maybe somewhere there were a few individual homo sapiens roaming from one continent to another who said, “I will treat you right if you treat me right. I will respect your property if you respect my property. I will help save your family from the wild animals if you help me save my family from the forest fires.”

    So began a conscious “symbiosis” of sorts, and individuals became aware of the concept “I”, and of property rights, and of a right to live apart (free) from the pack. (I am reminded of Ayla in “The Clan of the Cave Bear.”)

    It took awhile, and individuals were always in the minority. Today they still are. In the meantime the “pack” has grown, and grown more virulent over time – which has “hardwired” the vulnerability pitch into existence.

    But the freedom we aspire to, and the civilization we have arrived at, came from a few individuals who recognized (however subconsciously at first) just how vulnerable they were – and found a way by respecting each other’s worth to bring about the concepts of humaneness and justice.

    IOW, we – individuals – are the reason we are here, and they – the pack still trying to rule by intimidation and numbers – are losing the battle with each new technological advancement in communication.

    Think of that the next time you feel vulnerable, folks.

  5. rochester_veteran
    rochester_veteran June 21, 2018 5:32 am

    Claire, after USAF tech school, I got orders for my first duty station at Vandenberg AFB, CA, in the beautiful Central Coast. I had a few weeks to get there to report for duty and I took full advantage of that time and took the train from Chicago to LA, visited a friend that I met in rainwinsonde school and his wife for a few days in Riverside and then I took the train up the coast to San Francisco to explore it. I wandered the streets, took the cable cars, visited all the usual places tourists visit (had my first abalone steak at a restaurant on Fishermans Wharf). On one of my wanderings in downtown, a beautiful woman approached me on the street and asked me of I wanted to take a “personality test”. Although I could have cared less about the test and I was more interested in that woman and wanted to chat her up, so I agreed take the test and she led me into a nearby building where she sat me down at a table and I was presented the “personality test”. As it turns out, it was a Scientology test and they were using that woman to lure guys into that cult, a la the “fishy fishy” tactic that was also used by the Children of God. She gave me the entire spiel and how great Scientology was and how it would make me a better person and listed off some “courses” I could take and how much they cost, yada yada yada. Even though I was a green behind the ears 19 year old, I didn’t get sucked in by her spiel, but I was still interested in her and got her mailing address. While at Vandenberg, I kept up a correspondence with her in the hopes that she’d go out with me, but she stuck to her Scientology guns and kept on pushing the spiel on me and I cut it off and stopped writing her. Talk about a true believer!

    Talking about slugs, back when I was a kid after my dad remarried, one of my summertime chores was weeding out the gardens (I hated it then, and I still hate it now, but it’s a necessary evil if you don’t want your gardens overrun by them!). One day when I was weeding out a garden, I grabbed something slimy and upon closer inspection, I found that I had grabbed a slug! Ewwww! It gave me the willies big-time! My parents didn’t provide me with gardening gloves, so from that moment on, I checked the area out in the garden thoroughly before getting my hands into the dirt!

  6. Comrade X
    Comrade X June 21, 2018 9:44 am

    I solved my vulnerability issues by self medicating.

    On the trust thing; seeing is believing to me.

    There is a town in the PNW where one of their biggest events of the year is selecting a slug queen, I may have even been nominated once!

  7. Mark Call
    Mark Call June 21, 2018 9:46 am

    FWIW, Claire, I agree. And note that the attitude you generally and properly reject about what we’ve been told is “humility” (or, perhaps worse, “meek”-ness) is not really what the idea was anyway.

    It’s about being “teachable”. (I.e., “Moses was the most TEACHABLE” guy around. Kids are supposed to be “teachable” — as opposed, nowadays, to “indoctrinate-able”.)

    So I’ll quote Heinlein on the subject:

    “To stay young requires unceasing cultivation of the ability to unlearn old falsehoods.”

  8. progunfred
    progunfred June 22, 2018 5:14 pm

    My oh my. Somebody told you some bunk and for this I am truly sorry.

    Mr. Call covered meekness. A note about vulnerability. The bible says if you are vulnerable you will be overrun by enemies, and some closer than you think. Not in those words but to that effect by way of stories.

    About “become as a child.” In a properly taught Christian context this does not mean become like a child among people. It means to become as a child toward our Heavenly Father. Like a man (if properly raised) should have been to his earthly father when he was young. Seeking of his love, a sound lesson of how to grow up toward being a just man and a pat on the head for doing rightly. This is what that means.

    And to the contrary the Bible teaches explicitly several several places and ways and by hundreds of implicit examples the value of being a man among men and a woman among women, of being a leader in a just cause and a teacher of your people, a prophet of fact telling.

    I’m pretty sure you have the Woman among Women part covered and good on you. Sorry to hear you may not be well.

    Ps. And you can’t work your way into Heaven and anybody who told you this is a traitor to the Grace of God. It is only if we seek Him in all earnestness, desirous of the knowledge of Him that He might reveal Himself to us by His own will toward us, we having been estranged from the Kingdom of God and that we confess His Messiah that we might know Him and expect, yea hope to see Him welcome us home after our brief and hard testing on this place, earth. Either Jesus was a criminally insane charlatan who has duped a billion people or He is who He said He is. There is no third thing. I tell you the ancient stories of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are real. Read them for yourself and decide.

  9. david
    david June 23, 2018 8:25 pm

    I have always been vulnerable – because once I come to trust someone, I trust them. Sadly, most people will fail us given enough time. I’ve failed my share too. We can’t help it – we’re not static ‘things’, and we change. But I realized at some point that I’ve ‘been there’ before, and the hurt ends and life goes on.

    It’s not my fault if I was used/cheated/disappointed, but it is my fault if I let it continue. So I get the hell out of that situation and move on – and in that I have discovered invulnerability. Some of the worst damage was done to intentionally damage me – and once I realized that I found my immunity to it in that very fact. I will be fine, what happened is just another story to tell, memory to drink to (or about), and my life goes on. It’s sometimes been really painful, sometimes sad, but overall it’s good. I can be hurt, but I can only be emotionally damaged or killed if I allow it, and I don’t.

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