NOTE: This activity mimics Brené Brown’s interaction with members of troops in the Special Forces, as referenced in the ‘READY’ section.
Tell students that you will be talking about vulnerability and ask them to share what they already know about vulnerability or what they think it means to be vulnerable. After several students have shared their ideas, explain that vulnerability is formally defined as a combination of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. This means that vulnerability is at the core of any experience, feeling, or action that involves uncertainty, risk, or emotional exposure.
Now, ask students to think of a time in their life when they had to be courageous, or act bravely. Make sure that every student has had the opportunity to think of an example of courage or bravery before moving on. For any students who are having difficulty thinking about a time when they were courageous (most likely because of a narrow definition of courage that is associated with heroics), explain that they can be courageous when they take responsibility for their actions, when they apologize to someone, when they share their opinion, or when they tried something new.
Once everyone has thought of at least one example of courage from their life, ask them to think about the experience and consider whether it involved an uncertainty, risk or emotional exposure. Then, ask students to raise their hand if their example of courage did not include any of these three elements of vulnerability. No one should raise their hand. If a student does raise their hand, ask them to share the example with the class and use guided questions to coach them towards recognizing any uncertainty, risk, or emotional exposure associated with the experience.
Then, ask students to raise their hands if they think that vulnerability is weakness. Take a moment to consider students’ responses and then have them lower their hands. Next, ask students to raise their hands if they think that courage is weakness. Most students will raise their hands for the first statement but not for the second.
Remind students that vulnerability is defined as uncertainty, risk or emotional exposure and that, in the first question, not a single student was able to think of an example of courage that did not involve uncertainty, risk, or emotional exposure. In other words, courage does not exist in the absence of vulnerability. If vulnerability is weakness and if courage requires vulnerability, then courage is also weakness. Use this statement to spark conversation and reach the conclusion that vulnerability is NOT weakness.
At this point, summarize the two conclusions that you have drawn:
- There can be no courage without vulnerability.
- Vulnerability is not weakness.
Tell students that a common misconception is that vulnerability and courage lay at opposite ends of the same spectrum. In reality, vulnerability is a prerequisite for courage. You can be brave and afraid at the same time and being brave involves being uncomfortable.