November 5, 2019

What we can All Learn from Brené Brown’s Breakdown.


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“…I run best on love. For me, love is sustainable, renewable, and it burns clean.”~ Brené Brown


Recently, I was giving a seminar that began with a section on reframing, called “Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life.”

As I explained to the people in the conference room that breaking a toe could, in some instances, be the best thing that ever happens to them, I could see a few people looking at me, most likely suspicious about what was in my thermos cup. I explained that it would be entirely possible to break a toe, miss three days of work, and in that time, perhaps inadvertently pick up a book that would change the course of their life forever. I remember cringing inside as I defended my stance, “It’s entirely possible.”

So, you could imagine how much my English major soul enjoyed the irony that this exact scenario—right down to the same body part I randomly chose—just happened to Brené Brown. It’s so uncanny, I wasn’t sure I should even mention it. But you’ll just have to suspend disbelief long enough to take me at my word.

Ms. Brown, who I see not as a trendy social media hero but as a modern-day Aristotle, went radio silent after the back to back shootings in El Paso and Dayton this past August out of, what she described as “low-grade cultural despair with a side of burnout.” Or, at least that’s what she initially assumed before she—you guessed it—accidentally broke three toes in a freak accident involving platform shoes and uneven concrete. As she recuperated, she picked up her old copy of bell hooks’ All About Love, and she realized that it wasn’t cultural despair or burnout. It was a crisis of faith.

She lost her faith in humanity.

One of the biggest problems she was experiencing, which I believe a lot of us have felt from time to time in light of current events, was self-righteousness. Of course, she didn’t suggest that we all become apathetic and accepting of the morally paralyzed, but to paraphrase Erich Fromm, she was beginning to believe she was doing more harm than good by dressing hatred in the disguise of virtue.

Hooks explained in All About Love that most people do believe in justice and equality for all people, but it is the rare person who will actually defend these values in a meaningful way. Once Brown was able to come to terms with that, she began to soften up a little. It is, after all, a lot more difficult to be angry at someone for just not having the courage of their convictions as opposed to being purely evil.

What Brené Brown was able to do to finally heal her broken heart (along with her broken toes) was to stop trying to use anger as her fuel. As the quote at the top of the page suggests, she realized that love worked more efficiently in her “tank.” It is my belief that many of us who find ourselves hollowed out by what we hear on the news and see on social media every day, could stand to do the same.

As I mentioned, this doesn’t mean giving a pass to racists, sexists, homophobes, and xenophobes. It means giving a pass to ourselves. We can fight for social justice when we are rooted in love and, it is my contention, that we can do so more effectively.

If you’d like to see all of this expanded on by Ms. Brown herself, you can read the blog post on her website, “Doubling Down on Love.” It is a great read. At the conclusion, she gives a step-by-step prescriptive set of instructions on how one might double down on love in their own life.

As a world-famous author, shame researcher, and professor at the University of Houston, she just might be onto something.


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