Ladies and gentlemen, when talking about vulnerability, what ideas come to your mind: weakness, loser, shame or fear? I believe most people will associate the word “vulnerability” with negative meanings. We’re always shaped to be strong, especially in traditional Chinese culture. But in fact, the driving force to become truly strong lies in admitting and accepting your vulnerabilities. Are you surprised? Yet we too often lose sight of the fact that vulnerability is also the starting point of joy, belonging, creativity and love. Only when we are brave enough to face the challenges of our lives will we discover the infinite power of hope. Next, I would like to illustrate my points by telling a moved life story of Joshua Hsu.
Before Joshua was thirty-three, his life looked so perfect. He was energetic, talented in many fields, and had gotten countless first winner places since his childhood. He had graduated from National Taiwan University, College of Medicine and married his beautiful wife, Susan. Wow! It’s just like a fairy tale where the prince and the princess will be happy forever! However, in 2007, his idyllic world was dramatically turned upside down by a skiing accident which seriously damaged his spine. This rendered him physically disabled and paralyzed from his waist down. Owing to the spinal cord injury, he is even unable to control the passing of his urine and feces. The medical term for this condition is “incontinence.” It is like a walking time-bomb which bothers him so much. Besides, the nonstop nervous pain tortures him every second.
What would you do if you were him? Cry? Blame others or the circumstances for such a misfortune? Of course, he did that! But moreover, he chose another positive way to find inner peace and the strength to overcome his tragedy.
By taking off his mask, he had more opportunities to know love, compassion and blessing from others than before. From this accident, he learned to reflect on his life path, have more gratitude for his family, and strive for unity in it.
By feeling the depths of his lows, he fully appreciated the depths of his highs.
Though Joshua lost some abilities, he chose to never give up. He strengthened his upper body through weight-lifting. He trained very hard to drive by himself, be a psychiatrist and do something as possible as he can. Because of his life experience, he had more empathy to comfort and inspire his patients. Furthermore, he cooperated with the Industrial Technology Research Institute to invent devices that help the disabled to walk.
By totally accepting his vulnerability and negative emotions, he realized more about the true meaning of courage. He shared his experiences by writing a blog, being interviewed on TV and on radio programs to positively encourage more people. He enthusiastically served as the CEO of the Spinal Cord Injury Foundation to help people with the same injury go through the suffering and integrate into society more.
The accident hurt his central nervous system, but gave him chances to weave a web of more connection with this world.
Joshua’s story has greatly enlightened me; furthermore, he is a good example of being “whole-hearted” which is a term created by Brené Brown. She is a research professor of social work and a renowned speaker as well. Her 2010 talk on the power of vulnerability and 2012 talk on listening to shame are two of the most watched talks on TED.com. During her decades of research and interviews, she has found something confusing and meaningful.
When she asks people about love, belonging and connection, they often tell her about heartbreak, being excluded and disconnection instead. On the contrary, “whole-hearted” people are a special group that has a deep sense of self-worth and of course, feels very happy and satisfied. They all have something in common.
Courage – These folks have a strong sense of courage to admit they are not perfect and tell the story of who they are. They are just real and honest. No matter whether they’re scared, have made a mistake, or feel hurt, they just admit it.
Compassion – They have the compassion to be kind to themselves first. They are willing to let go of something bad but has happened and believe they are worthy of love and belonging.
Change & Connection –The hardest and most important part. Whole-hearted people learn from the greatest lessons of sorrow and vulnerability, then modify their values of life and share their experience with others.
So ladies and gentlemen, as a science teacher, here is an equation I would like to teach you when facing the challenges. P=M*V Taking motions and efforts to make changes is no doubt necessary. But the multiple effect of vulnerability is even more. The dark does not destroy the light, but defines it instead. Embracing vulnerability fully brings a purpose and meaning to life. Vulnerability isn’t a curse but a gift for us to have more capacity for empathy and awareness of being worthy.