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Humanitarians and the Gift of Vulnerability

Updated: Feb 1, 2022

In Brené Brown’s famous TED talk of June 2010, which has been viewed 53 million times, she confesses to running into a wall in her vulnerability research. In this talk she relates a session with her therapist where she confides,

“Well, I have a vulnerability issue. And I know that vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle with worthiness, but it appears that it is also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, and of love.” (1)

I have listened to this talk entitled “The Power of Vulnerability” several times and each time this phrase hits me in the chest: Vulnerability is the seat of joy, creativity, belonging, and love.

I find this remarkable but also scary.

In this TED talk, Brené ends the TED talk with the statement, “I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.” (1)

Notably, the title of her book Daring Greatly originates from a famous speech given by Teddy Roosevelt in 1910 that states,

“…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”(2 )

This image of failing while daring greatly is a picture of the vulnerability that accompanies acts of courage. In fact, in her more recent book, Dare to Lead, Brené attempts to dispel the myth that vulnerability equals weakness. The example she gives occurs when she speaks to a room full of military special forces soldiers where she receives this response from them,

“There is not one person (that) has been able to give an example of courage without vulnerability." (3)

After reflecting on this it becomes apparent that this same kind of courage…and vulnerability…is required of those who pursue humanitarian efforts.

Who are the humanitarians?

As Oxford dictionary defines it, humanitarians are concerned with and seek to promote human welfare. As they begin the journey to become professional humanitarians, their path is one of vulnerability: starting to learn and train, many times taking a career change, walking into the unknown. In essence, turning from security toward a bit of chaos. They choose a path that runs uphill through potholes and ditches.

Where are the humanitarians?

The humanitarian can be found seeking the weak among them, the least secure, the downtrodden. Yes, seeking out the vulnerable. They become exposed as they expose the harsh conditions and circumstances in search of peace and calm…and dignity. Their dignity is wrapped in the dignity of others. They become safer, healthier, more peaceful as everyone heals. Healing is their work. Healing communities, healing systems, healing themselves. Always stitching a tapestry of security within vastly insecure fabric.

Humanitarians become vulnerable as they seek the vulnerable.

Spilling love on the roads of inequity.

Exhaling the breath of compassion into the air of oppression while holding a map of transformation that is torn and tattered by years of walking beside.

They become displaced among the displaced, exposed and vulnerable as emotions lay bare, scattered all over the place.

And yet, as one listens to the above TED talk by Brené Brown, one learns that when humanitarians step into this vulnerability, they step into the very opportunities that vulnerability can offer: joy, creativity, belonging and love.

And it is this vulnerability that makes them alive.


Brown, Brene’. (June, 2010). The Power of Vulnerability. language=en#t-1214205

Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly. New York, NY: Gotham Books.

Brown, B. (2018). Dare to Lead. New York, NY: Random House. P.24.

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