In a year that has proven challenging for many living in the United States, Brené Brown’s Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone is a timely and important read. Discrimination, politics, and fear are at the forefront of many conversations, and while these conversations can be uncomfortable (especially when your opinions differ from the other party), they’re often necessary to have.
Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, has spent more than a decade studying studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame, and this book is a must-read for anyone who feels like they need courage to lean into their authentic self while in the depths of a “political and ideological combat zone.” Brown introduces four courageous practices for true belonging that will help connect you to your true self and in turn those around you:
- People Are Hard to Hate Close Up. Move in.
- Speak Truth to Bullshit. Be Civil.
- Hold Hands. With Strangers.
- Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart.
While every page provides invaluable insight on how to navigate these difficult conversations, here are 5 of our favorite takeaways from Braving the Wilderness.
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1. Be within the trees
You know the saying “can’t see the forest for the trees”? That may actually be a good thing. The people Brown interviewed for Braving the Wilderness who had the strongest sense of true belonging stayed zoomed in. While it’s important to have an awareness of what is happening in the world, we need to focus on the individuals in our life and form opinions based on those in-person experiences. This prevents us from making generalizations about whole groups of people. It’s time to move in.
2. Being true to yourself allows for deeper connection to those around you
True belonging is the power to be vulnerable. When we are vulnerable with others, we feel a deeper sense of connection to those around us. The issues that are discussed in the news are painted as black or white, but in reality, how often are these complex topics so clear cut? Never. You can be against gun violence and for responsible gun ownership. (GASP!)
True belonging means getting uncomfortable and learning how to be present with others in these difficult conversations. Instead of agreeing to disagree, be vulnerable. Listen to what they have to say. Speak your mind, but be civil.
3. Pain is important. Don’t ignore it.
Brown writes, “Courage is forged in pain, but not in all pain. Pain that is denied or ignored becomes fear or hate.”
With so much hate and fear flying around, it’s no secret that our society has a problem with addressing pain. Facing and even, opening up about our pain is not what we’ve been taught. But when we acknowledge pain, we can rebuild and find our way through it. It’s up to us to determine how it expresses itself — as anger and hate, or as love and compassion.
4. Build a culture of true belonging in the workplace.
Wondering where to start on your quest for true belonging? I suggest the workplace. Most of us spend 8 or more hours a day, 5 days a week in a work environment. Creating a culture of true belonging in the workplace is mutually beneficial. When employees feel more comfortable expressing their opinions and new ideas, your organization is more likely to succeed. Companies with fear-based cultures don’t allow employees — and therefore their business — to thrive. We need to create workspaces where people feel safe to speak their minds (civilly, of course — see #2).
5. Dignity above all else.
Dehumanization is the primary instrument of violence that has been used in every genocide since the beginning of time. In order to create safer spaces, we need to stop dehumanizing. Brown writes, “When the president of the United States calls women dogs or talks about grabbing p*ssy, we should get chills down our spine and resistance flowing through our veins. When people call the president of the United States a pig, we should reject that language regardless of our politics and demand discourse that doesn’t make people subhuman.” Dignity for everyone. Above politics, above beliefs, above religion — let’s be courageous and show everyone an equal amount of respect.
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