I don’t want to talk about the ‘Rona. I have drunk my fill.
Vulnerability on the other hand? Well, vulnerability is the new black. If you aren’t feeling vulnerable some of the time then you might want to check your vitals and admit you are a sociopath.
Of course, vulnerability is not a stranger to the human condition. This is not even up for debate, but one cannot deny that it has been a VERY long time since the entire planet felt so vulnerable and uncertain.
Pockets of the world could offer exception, but perhaps not since the rise of terror, post 9/11, has it spread so widely. That is a debate for the geopolitical nerds and assorted intellectuals, however.
The vulnerability I want to explore is the good kind related to learning and growth. As in, what might be the exponential benefit when we emerge from lockdown?
As the tide of regular social interaction recedes, and we’ve adjusted and adapted as best as we could, this has been on my mind.
For a huge stretch of my life, vulnerability was a fragrance made by Calvin Kline. It was kryptonite, something to avoid if you wished to be taken seriously by people who mattered.
Real men were never wrong. Real men, people of substance and intellect, never showed a weakness like vulnerability.
Okay, maybe when they were drunk.
Thankfully, that attitude left some years ago. As a learner and teacher, sporadic aspiring writer, this ghost in the machine had long outstayed its welcome.
Now, vulnerability is almost a superpower. And it has led me to entering this forced period of isolation with a sense of purpose and even, it could be said, excitement.
This transition was helped no end by an openness to return to something very old, even ancient. Philosophy.
And the further I have journeyed down the path of philosophical learning, the more vulnerability became an essential part of growth and learning. It has given me the humility to admit that I don’t know everything.
It turns out, you can be strong and vulnerable at the same time.
The trip down this rabbit hole started with Tim Ferriss and his podcasts, which I enjoyed more for who he spoke to than the man himself.
And one theme that arose time and time again via these chats was the wisdom of ancients, particularly the stoic flavour.
This was a sceptical, toe in the water kind of study. I did not want to jump in to a cult, wary of being sucked into a closed shop where magical answers lie like gold at the end of a rainbow.
That scepticism remains – but as I read more and way led on to way, it brought me through history to some other great thinkers and philosophers on life, including a return to Viktor Frankl and his terrific ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’.
Ryan Holiday was a worthy guide via his series of books related to the stoics. Asking around, mindful not to put too many eggs in one basked, the journey led to Alain de Botton’s excellent ‘The Consolations of Philosophy’ also.
For a good little primer on one of the stoics and anxiety, you can’t go past Maria Popova’s article on Brainpickings too.
Exposure to and the rumination of these principles offered tools to enter this phase of uncertainty with some perspective and resolve.
Rather than see doom and gloom in the global pandemic and uncertain forced isolation, I’m looking for the good things.
While stoicism is not the magic bullet – in fact, some of the views in this philosophy are colder than a polar bear’s pocket, there is clear advantage in choosing how you will respond to something, knowing that vulnerability is not only desirable, but completely required and normal.
So the interesting question is, what will we all do with this forced vulnerability and risk? How de cope with social distancing, social isolation and lockdown?
Early signs indicate an increase in general horseplay and making the best of a bad one. Balcony bands, Tik Toks, group whisky and wine evenings and a whole lot of getting on with it. Innovation, ingenuity and fun in other words.
And these are important ways for us to cope and ensure the collective withdrawal from what we knew. How long will they sustain us, though, when the weeks become months?
The exploration of stoicism has given me the chance to look at things a bit differently before taking action. Rather than vanish into navel gazing, itemising and quantifying all the things I can’t do, the focus is looking for the things that can be done.
Ryan Holiday often refers to an idea borrowed from Robert Greene – is it alive time or dead time?
The answer to this question requires more vulnerability than a system may tolerate, particularly now, but it is also critical to how we approach this circumstance.
Are we able to see isolation as an opportunity to create more alive time than we have ever had? Or will it be dead time? The ‘tooth that nibbles at the edges of our souls’, to steal a line from Emily Dickinson.
Not so long ago, my desires were for more time to work on the things I really cared about. Learning, Educating. Writing.
I wanted more time to cook and share meals with my much better half. I wanted more time to exercise and build good habits. I wanted more time to connect with friends and family. I wanted to get more sleep and reduce screen time and sell less of myself to the busy monster, whose appetites were voracious and vast.
Vulnerability offered the chance to realise that what I wanted is what the pandemic has, indirectly, provided.
The journey towards this vulnerability, guided by ancient voices and ideas, allows me to enter this time with more hope than fear.
Vulnerable is the new black. Suit up.