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Rising Strong

The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution.

by Brene’ Brown

This week The Open Table features guest reviewer, Landrum P. Leavell III. Lan is a friend, avid reader and a pastor at The Village Church in Denton, Texas.

I have had the chance to hear Brene’ Brown three times now. She is engaging, disarming, and somewhat naughtily charming and funny, both in speaking and writing. She loves Texas (who doesn’t?), likes to flip people off in traffic, and has a propensity to curse. Thousands of people have listened to her TED talk. Rising Strong is the first book of hers that I’ve read, although I have Daring Greatly cued up. She has come to be known as the “vulnerability lady.” She defines vulnerability as “the willingness to show up and be seen with no guarantee of outcome, the only path to more love, belonging, and joy.” (xvii)

She practices what she preaches/teaches as a social scientist and research professor. She puts herself out there. The opening, foundational illustration is her personal “Rock the Speedo” story. (You’ll have to read it for yourself.” And she’s honest about the journey into vulnerability: “You’re going to stumble, fall, and get your ass kicked.” Introductory statements like that let you know that she’s real, candid, and won’t blow smoke up your dress. Describing the progression of her work, she summarizes this book as “Fail. Get up. Try again.” Brown works off the metaphor from Theodore Roosevelt’s 1910 “Man in the Arena” speech, referring to the person who is “facedown in the arena.” Who hasn’t been there, figuratively if not literally? Everyone fails, and isn’t it a no-brainer that what we do with the experience/s of failing is what shapes us as people?

Before the introduction is done, you’re introduced to “The Badassery Deficit.” Blustery posturing, swagger, and perfection are not badassery. “People who wade into discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about their stories are the real badasses.”

Her opening chapter on The Physics of Vulnerability provides truths that resonate with us. No one wants to sit in the cheap seats. We want to be in the arena. Even if one feels alone, no one successfully goes it alone. In discussing these rules of engagement, Brown notes that we are wired for story, and for a surprisingly simple reason: “…because we feel most alive when we’re connecting with others and being brave with our stories—it’s in our biology.” She quotes neuroeconomist Paul Zak, who has found that hearing a story releases chemicals that “trigger uniquely human abilities to connect, empathize, and make meaning. Story is literally in our DNA.” (6)

Describing her own journey, Brown sees her upbringing, plus years of studying the art and science of teaching, led her to become an accidental storyteller. The quest to learn more about the craft came out of the fact that her research found storytelling was a key variable. And we must own our stories. “The irony is that we attempt to disown our difficult stories to appear more whole or more acceptable, but our wholeness-even our wholeheartedness-actually depends on the integration of all our experiences, including our falls.” (38)

As she lays out the process of Rising Strong, Brown gives us three terms that she unpacks extensively: The Reckoning, The Rumble, and The Revolution. The Reckoning—“You either walk into your story and own your truth, or you live outside of your story, hustling for your worthiness.” (45) The Middle English rekenenmeans to narrate or make an account. We don’t have to pinpoint our emotions accurately, but we do have to recognize we’re feeling something. You don’t off-load or deny your feelings; you recognize what all is in play. Then you get curious about your emotions and feelings. “Curiosity is a shit-starter. But that’s okay. Sometimes we have to rumble with a story to find the truth.” (44) She introduces you to new terms, such as chandelier pain, bouncing hurt, numbing hurt, stockpiling hurt, and the fear of high centering.

The Rumble: Brene begins this chapter with a quote about the importance of telling your story from Margaret Atwood, one of Len’s favorite authors. The Reckoning is how we walk into our story. The Rumble is where we own it. One of my favorite phrases throughout the book is her statement, “This is the story I’m making up in my head right now…” We must get honest about this, to reality-check these narratives. She writes of conspiracies and confabulations, which is helpful for who doesn’t delve into conspiracy thinking? She gives some great Rumble questions and Rumbling topics.

Another metaphor she spent time on is “the delta.” Many know this as the fourth letter in the Greek alphabet, a mathematical symbol for difference. A capital delta is a triangle. Brown uses the delta for personal and professional reasons. It points to the three-legged stool of emotion, thought, and behavior. “A true rumble affects the way we feel, think, and act—our whole selves. From the personal side, the lyrics of Crosby, Stills &Nash’s song “Delta” have been a source of comfort to her over the years during various significant life events, to know you’re not the only one navigating the “fast running rivers of choice and chance.”

The Rumble is important. Sometimes our go-to emotions mask what we’re really feeling. I was born in the Mississippi Delta. Deltas are marshy, full of sediment and brackish water, forever changing, where the rivers meet the sea. Brown contends that our key learnings emerge from the delta.

On the subject of Rumbling, she writes of Living BIG: Boundaries-Integrity-Generosity. “A generous assumption without boundaries is another recipe for resentment, misunderstanding, and judgment.” (122) Noting that we all need to be more generous, integrity and boundaries need to be maintained. Many would not connect being generous with giving benefit of the doubt, but in being generous with others, do we believe that the people around us are doing the best they can with their life? We live in an age of warp-speed everything, rabid impatience, and manic rushes to judgment. Do we believe the person serving us at the store, coffee shop, or market is doing the best they can, or did they decide their mission for the day is to be a speed-bump for your race of the day?

The Revolution: Learning to trust people. “Giving help can occasionally feel vulnerable; asking for help always means risking vulnerability.” (181) Remember the statement on badasses? The delta between I am a screwup and I screwed up may look small, but it’s huge. Failure as a word is imperfect and can be transformed, even becoming nourishment. Brown’s term “composting failure” is another of many to give both distinction and direction to how we deal with shame, failure, betrayal, et al. She also delves into trauma and complicated grief and ends the book with a Manifesto of the Brave and Brokenhearted.

I devoured this book, resonating with so much of it. Less than halfway through it I was telling friends about it, using the lessons learned in it to share, implement, counsel, and mentor. Get it. You’re welcome.