“I am struck by how sharing our weakness and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes.”
Being in the midst of the presidential conventions reminds us of a story from the campaign four years ago. Hillary Clinton, who had a reputation of sometimes being cold, unemotional, and unapproachable, had lost somewhat surprisingly her first head to head contest during the Democratic caucus in Iowa. As the next contest approached, the New Hampshire primary, it was obvious that she was in a dark and discouraged place. At an event, surrounded by reporters, and caught on camera, she had a sudden and surprising moment of vulnerability. She appeared to begin to break down and cry and exclaimed how hard it was. Running for president and being scrutinized on a relentless daily basis was taking its toll. Clinton’s moment of vulnerability surprised a lot of people—and it humanized her—in a way that perhaps she had never been humanized before. It softened her cold image and people began to see her as truly human. Ultimately she went on to win that next primary and it reenergized her campaign.
And while she in the end did not win the presidency–with her expression of vulnerability–she earned greater respect among many around the country including her own colleague and her chief political rival Barak Obama who chose her to be his top cabinet member.
In 1997, after the tragic death of Britain’s Princess Diana, there was an incredible outpouring of emotion and grief among the people of her country and others around the world. That outpouring was surprising (especially from a country known for its ‘stiff-upper lip’ mentality in reaction to crisis and difficulties). Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal Family came under intense criticism for not gauging the reaction of the people of their country fully and understanding the profound depth of emotion that they were feeling upon Diana’s death. For nearly a week following the tragedy, the Queen and her family remained publically silent and stayed secluded in Scotland—not returning to London as people thought they should. The Royal Family, used to exemplifying the stoic, stiff-upper lip demeanor, initially had a very difficult time knowing how to react publically to the events of that week. But when the Queen eventually returned to London 6 days later and saw and felt the emotion and grief of her people she appeared on a live television broadcast around the world to express real feeling, emotion, and sadness at the loss of her former daughter-in-law and mother to her two grandsons. That expression immediately became a cathartic act that blunted the previous criticism and gave permission to a nation to openly share its grief. It was a healing act.
We find that author Jean Vanier’s words are profoundly true and insightful. What connects us most is not so much our successes and victories and achievements, but is instead in sharing the common feelings, fears, emotions, losses, insecurities, that all of us experience. When these two powerful women allowed themselves to be seen as human it opened doors that had never been opened before. When these two powerful women who obviously have many advantages in life such as wealth, influence, fame, and security, were able to express something in common with people who don’t have some of those things, it provided a connection that was healing and unifying and extremely powerful; it enabled larger and greater things to take place.
When we begin to see ourselves as in this life together – not as rivals or enemies or better or different from others– but as journeyers sharing much more in common than simply our successes—our connections come much quicker and go much deeper. When our common vulnerabilities and weaknesses are acknowledged and shared rather than being hidden and kept in the dark, it not only heals us but it gains resonance with the entire human family who shares those same vulnerabilities too.