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Annotated captions of Brené Brown: The power of vulnerability in English

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tedtalks 00:00
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So, I'll start with this:

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a couple years ago, an event planner called me

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because I was going to do a speaking event.

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And she called, and she said,

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"I'm really struggling with how

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to write about you on the little flier."

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And I thought, "Well, what's the struggle?"

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And she said, "Well, I saw you speak,

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and I'm going to call you a researcher, I think,

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but I'm afraid if I call you a researcher, no one will come,

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because they'll think you're boring and irrelevant."

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(Laughter)

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And I was like, "Okay."

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And she said, "But the thing I liked about your talk

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is you're a storyteller.

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So I think what I'll do is just call you a storyteller."

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And of course, the academic, insecure part of me

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was like, "You're going to call me a what?"

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And she said, "I'm going to call you a storyteller."

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And I was like, "Why not magic pixie?"

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(Laughter)

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I was like, "Let me think about this for a second."

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I tried to call deep on my courage.

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And I thought, you know, I am a storyteller.

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I'm a qualitative researcher.

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I collect stories; that's what I do.

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And maybe stories are just data with a soul.

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And maybe I'm just a storyteller.

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And so I said, "You know what?

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Why don't you just say I'm a researcher-storyteller."

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And she went, "Haha. There's no such thing."

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(Laughter)

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So I'm a researcher-storyteller,

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and I'm going to talk to you today --

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we're talking about expanding perception --

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and so I want to talk to you and tell some stories

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about a piece of my research

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that fundamentally expanded my perception

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and really actually changed the way that I live and love

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and work and parent.

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And this is where my story starts.

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When I was a young researcher, doctoral student,

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my first year I had a research professor

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who said to us,

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"Here's the thing,

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if you cannot measure it, it does not exist."

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And I thought he was just sweet-talking me.

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I was like, "Really?" and he was like, "Absolutely."

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And so you have to understand

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that I have a bachelor's in social work, a master's in social work,

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and I was getting my Ph.D. in social work,

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so my entire academic career

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was surrounded by people

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who kind of believed

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in the "life's messy, love it."

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And I'm more of the, "life's messy,

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clean it up, organize it

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and put it into a bento box."

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(Laughter)

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And so to think that I had found my way,

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to found a career that takes me --

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really, one of the big sayings in social work

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is, "Lean into the discomfort of the work."

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And I'm like, knock discomfort upside the head

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and move it over and get all A's.

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That was my mantra.

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So I was very excited about this.

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And so I thought, you know what, this is the career for me,

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because I am interested in some messy topics.

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But I want to be able to make them not messy.

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I want to understand them.

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I want to hack into these things

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I know are important

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and lay the code out for everyone to see.

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So where I started was with connection.

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Because, by the time you're a social worker for 10 years,

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what you realize

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is that connection is why we're here.

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It's what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.

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This is what it's all about.

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It doesn't matter whether you talk to people

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who work in social justice and mental health and abuse and neglect,

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what we know is that connection,

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the ability to feel connected, is --

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neurobiologically that's how we're wired --

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it's why we're here.

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So I thought, you know what, I'm going to start with connection.

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Well, you know that situation

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where you get an evaluation from your boss,

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and she tells you 37 things you do really awesome,

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and one thing -- an "opportunity for growth?"

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(Laughter)

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And all you can think about is that opportunity for growth, right?

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Well, apparently this is the way my work went as well,

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because, when you ask people about love,

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they tell you about heartbreak.

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When you ask people about belonging,

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they'll tell you their most excruciating experiences

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of being excluded.

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And when you ask people about connection,

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the stories they told me were about disconnection.

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So very quickly -- really about six weeks into this research --

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I ran into this unnamed thing

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that absolutely unraveled connection

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in a way that I didn't understand or had never seen.

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And so I pulled back out of the research

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and thought, I need to figure out what this is.

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And it turned out to be shame.

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And shame is really easily understood

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as the fear of disconnection:

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Is there something about me

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that, if other people know it or see it,

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that I won't be worthy of connection?

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The things I can tell you about it:

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it's universal; we all have it.

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The only people who don't experience shame

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have no capacity for human empathy or connection.

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No one wants to talk about it,

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and the less you talk about it the more you have it.

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What underpinned this shame,

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this "I'm not good enough," --

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which we all know that feeling:

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"I'm not blank enough. I'm not thin enough,

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rich enough, beautiful enough, smart enough,

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promoted enough."

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The thing that underpinned this

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was excruciating vulnerability,

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this idea of,

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in order for connection to happen,

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we have to allow ourselves to be seen,

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really seen.

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And you know how I feel about vulnerability. I hate vulnerability.

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And so I thought, this is my chance

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to beat it back with my measuring stick.

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I'm going in, I'm going to figure this stuff out,

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I'm going to spend a year, I'm going to totally deconstruct shame,

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I'm going to understand how vulnerability works,

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and I'm going to outsmart it.

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So I was ready, and I was really excited.

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As you know, it's not going to turn out well.

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(Laughter)

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You know this.

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So, I could tell you a lot about shame,

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but I'd have to borrow everyone else's time.

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But here's what I can tell you that it boils down to --

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and this may be one of the most important things that I've ever learned

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in the decade of doing this research.

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My one year

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turned into six years:

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thousands of stories,

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hundreds of long interviews, focus groups.

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At one point, people were sending me journal pages

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and sending me their stories --

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thousands of pieces of data in six years.

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And I kind of got a handle on it.

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I kind of understood, this is what shame is,

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this is how it works.

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I wrote a book,

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I published a theory,

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but something was not okay --

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and what it was is that,

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if I roughly took the people I interviewed

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and divided them into people

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who really have a sense of worthiness --

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that's what this comes down to,

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a sense of worthiness --

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they have a strong sense of love and belonging --

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and folks who struggle for it,

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and folks who are always wondering if they're good enough.

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There was only one variable

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that separated the people who have

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a strong sense of love and belonging

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and the people who really struggle for it.

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And that was, the people who have

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a strong sense of love and belonging

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believe they're worthy of love and belonging.

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That's it.

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They believe they're worthy.

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And to me, the hard part

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of the one thing that keeps us out of connection

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is our fear that we're not worthy of connection,

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was something that, personally and professionally,

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I felt like I needed to understand better.

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So what I did

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is I took all of the interviews

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where I saw worthiness, where I saw people living that way,

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and just looked at those.

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What do these people have in common?

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I have a slight office supply addiction,

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but that's another talk.

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So I had a manila folder, and I had a Sharpie,

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and I was like, what am I going to call this research?

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And the first words that came to my mind

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were whole-hearted.

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These are whole-hearted people, living from this deep sense of worthiness.

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So I wrote at the top of the manila folder,

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and I started looking at the data.

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In fact, I did it first

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in a four-day

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very intensive data analysis,

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where I went back, pulled these interviews, pulled the stories, pulled the incidents.

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What's the theme? What's the pattern?

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My husband left town with the kids

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because I always go into this Jackson Pollock crazy thing,

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where I'm just like writing

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and in my researcher mode.

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And so here's what I found.

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What they had in common

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was a sense of courage.

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And I want to separate courage and bravery for you for a minute.

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Courage, the original definition of courage,

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when it first came into the English language --

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it's from the Latin word cor, meaning heart --

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and the original definition

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was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.

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And so these folks

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had, very simply, the courage

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to be imperfect.

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They had the compassion

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to be kind to themselves first and then to others,

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because, as it turns out, we can't practice compassion with other people

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if we can't treat ourselves kindly.

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And the last was they had connection,

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and -- this was the hard part --

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as a result of authenticity,

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they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be

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in order to be who they were,

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which you have to absolutely do that

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for connection.

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The other thing that they had in common

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was this:

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They fully embraced vulnerability.

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They believed

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that what made them vulnerable

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made them beautiful.

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They didn't talk about vulnerability

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being comfortable,

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nor did they really talk about it being excruciating --

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as I had heard it earlier in the shame interviewing.

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They just talked about it being necessary.

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They talked about the willingness

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to say, "I love you" first,

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the willingness

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to do something

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where there are no guarantees,

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the willingness

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to breathe through waiting for the doctor to call

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after your mammogram.

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They're willing to invest in a relationship

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that may or may not work out.

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They thought this was fundamental.

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I personally thought it was betrayal.

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I could not believe I had pledged allegiance

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to research, where our job --

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you know, the definition of research

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is to control and predict, to study phenomena,

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for the explicit reason

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to control and predict.

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And now my mission

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to control and predict

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had turned up the answer that the way to live is with vulnerability

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and to stop controlling and predicting.

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This led to a little breakdown --

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(Laughter)

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-- which actually looked more like this.

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(Laughter)

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And it did.

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I call it a breakdown; my therapist calls it a spiritual awakening.

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A spiritual awakening sounds better than breakdown,

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but I assure you it was a breakdown.

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And I had to put my data away and go find a therapist.

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Let me tell you something: you know who you are

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when you call your friends and say, "I think I need to see somebody.

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Do you have any recommendations?"

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Because about five of my friends were like,

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"Wooo. I wouldn't want to be your therapist."

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(Laughter)

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I was like, "What does that mean?"

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And they're like, "I'm just saying, you know.

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Don't bring your measuring stick."

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I was like, "Okay."

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So I found a therapist.

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My first meeting with her, Diana --

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I brought in my list

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of the way the whole-hearted live, and I sat down.

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And she said, "How are you?"

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And I said, "I'm great. I'm okay."

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She said, "What's going on?"

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And this is a therapist who sees therapists,

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because we have to go to those,

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because their B.S. meters are good.

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(Laughter)

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And so I said,

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"Here's the thing, I'm struggling."

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And she said, "What's the struggle?"

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And I said, "Well, I have a vulnerability issue.

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And I know that vulnerability is the core

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of shame and fear

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and our struggle for worthiness,

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but it appears that it's also the birthplace

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of joy, of creativity,

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of belonging, of love.

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And I think I have a problem,

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and I need some help."

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And I said, "But here's the thing:

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no family stuff,

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no childhood shit."

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(Laughter)

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"I just need some strategies."

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(Laughter)

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(Applause)

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Thank you.

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So she goes like this.

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(Laughter)

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And then I said, "It's bad, right?"

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And she said, "It's neither good nor bad."

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(Laughter)

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"It just is what it is."

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And I said, "Oh my God, this is going to suck."

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(Laughter)

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And it did, and it didn't.

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And it took about a year.

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And you know how there are people

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that, when they realize that vulnerability and tenderness are important,

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that they surrender and walk into it.

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A: that's not me,

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and B: I don't even hang out with people like that.

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(Laughter)

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For me, it was a yearlong street fight.

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It was a slugfest.

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Vulnerability pushed, I pushed back.

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I lost the fight,

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but probably won my life back.

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And so then I went back into the research

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and spent the next couple of years

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really trying to understand what they, the whole-hearted,

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what choices they were making,

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and what are we doing

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with vulnerability.

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Why do we struggle with it so much?

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Am I alone in struggling with vulnerability?

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No.

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So this is what I learned.

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We numb vulnerability --

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when we're waiting for the call.

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It was funny, I sent something out on Twitter and on Facebook

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14:35

that says, "How would you define vulnerability?

tedtalks 14:35
14:37

What makes you feel vulnerable?"

tedtalks 14:37
14:40

And within an hour and a half, I had 150 responses.

tedtalks 14:40
14:42

Because I wanted to know

tedtalks 14:42
14:44

what's out there.

tedtalks 14:45
14:47

Having to ask my husband for help

tedtalks 14:47
14:50

because I'm sick, and we're newly married;

tedtalks 14:50
14:53

initiating sex with my husband;

tedtalks 14:53
14:55

initiating sex with my wife;

tedtalks 14:55
14:58

being turned down; asking someone out;

tedtalks 14:58
15:00

waiting for the doctor to call back;

tedtalks 15:00
15:03

getting laid off; laying off people --

tedtalks 15:03
15:05

this is the world we live in.

tedtalks 15:05
15:08

We live in a vulnerable world.

tedtalks 15:08
15:10

And one of the ways we deal with it

tedtalks 15:10
15:12

is we numb vulnerability.

tedtalks 15:12
15:14

And I think there's evidence --

tedtalks 15:14
15:16

and it's not the only reason this evidence exists,

tedtalks 15:16
15:18

but I think it's a huge cause --

tedtalks 15:18
15:22

we are the most in-debt,

tedtalks 15:22
15:25

obese,

tedtalks 15:25
15:28

addicted and medicated

tedtalks 15:28
15:30

adult cohort in U.S. history.

tedtalks 15:33
15:36

The problem is -- and I learned this from the research --

tedtalks 15:36
15:39

that you cannot selectively numb emotion.

tedtalks 15:40
15:43

You can't say, here's the bad stuff.

tedtalks 15:43
15:45

Here's vulnerability, here's grief, here's shame,

tedtalks 15:45
15:47

here's fear, here's disappointment.

tedtalks 15:47
15:49

I don't want to feel these.

tedtalks 15:49
15:52

I'm going to have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin.

tedtalks 15:52
15:54

(Laughter)

tedtalks 15:54
15:56

I don't want to feel these.

tedtalks 15:56
15:58

And I know that's knowing laughter.

tedtalks 15:58
16:01

I hack into your lives for a living.

tedtalks 16:01
16:03

God.

tedtalks 16:03
16:05

(Laughter)

tedtalks 16:05
16:08

You can't numb those hard feelings

tedtalks 16:08
16:10

without numbing the other affects, our emotions.

tedtalks 16:10
16:12

You cannot selectively numb.

tedtalks 16:12
16:15

So when we numb those,

tedtalks 16:15
16:17

we numb joy,

tedtalks 16:17
16:19

we numb gratitude,

tedtalks 16:19
16:21

we numb happiness.

tedtalks 16:21
16:24

And then we are miserable,

tedtalks 16:24
16:26

and we are looking for purpose and meaning,

tedtalks 16:26
16:28

and then we feel vulnerable,

tedtalks 16:28
16:31

so then we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin.

tedtalks 16:31
16:34

And it becomes this dangerous cycle.

tedtalks 16:36
16:39

One of the things that I think we need to think about

tedtalks 16:39
16:41

is why and how we numb.

tedtalks 16:41
16:44

And it doesn't just have to be addiction.

tedtalks 16:44
16:46

The other thing we do

tedtalks 16:46
16:49

is we make everything that's uncertain certain.

tedtalks 16:50
16:53

Religion has gone from a belief in faith and mystery

tedtalks 16:53
16:55

to certainty.

tedtalks 16:55
16:58

I'm right, you're wrong. Shut up.

tedtalks 16:58
17:00

That's it.

tedtalks 17:00
17:02

Just certain.

tedtalks 17:02
17:04

The more afraid we are, the more vulnerable we are,

tedtalks 17:04
17:06

the more afraid we are.

tedtalks 17:06
17:08

This is what politics looks like today.

tedtalks 17:08
17:10

There's no discourse anymore.

tedtalks 17:10
17:12

There's no conversation.

tedtalks 17:12
17:14

There's just blame.

tedtalks 17:14
17:17

You know how blame is described in the research?

tedtalks 17:17
17:20

A way to discharge pain and discomfort.

tedtalks 17:21
17:23

We perfect.

tedtalks 17:23
17:26

If there's anyone who wants their life to look like this, it would be me,

tedtalks 17:26
17:28

but it doesn't work.

tedtalks 17:28
17:30

Because what we do is we take fat from our butts

tedtalks 17:30
17:32

and put it in our cheeks.

tedtalks 17:32
17:35

(Laughter)

tedtalks 17:35
17:37

Which just, I hope in 100 years,

tedtalks 17:37
17:39

people will look back and go, "Wow."

tedtalks 17:39
17:41

(Laughter)

tedtalks 17:41
17:43

And we perfect, most dangerously,

tedtalks 17:43
17:45

our children.

tedtalks 17:45
17:47

Let me tell you what we think about children.

tedtalks 17:47
17:50

They're hardwired for struggle when they get here.

tedtalks 17:50
17:53

And when you hold those perfect little babies in your hand,

tedtalks 17:53
17:55

our job is not to say, "Look at her, she's perfect.

tedtalks 17:55
17:57

My job is just to keep her perfect --

tedtalks 17:57
18:00

make sure she makes the tennis team by fifth grade and Yale by seventh grade."

tedtalks 18:00
18:02

That's not our job.

tedtalks 18:02
18:04

Our job is to look and say,

tedtalks 18:04
18:07

"You know what? You're imperfect, and you're wired for struggle,

tedtalks 18:07
18:09

but you are worthy of love and belonging."

tedtalks 18:09
18:11

That's our job.

tedtalks 18:11
18:13

Show me a generation of kids raised like that,

tedtalks 18:13
18:16

and we'll end the problems I think that we see today.

tedtalks 18:16
18:20

We pretend that what we do

tedtalks 18:20
18:23

doesn't have an effect on people.

tedtalks 18:23
18:25

We do that in our personal lives.

tedtalks 18:25
18:27

We do that corporate --

tedtalks 18:27
18:29

whether it's a bailout, an oil spill,

tedtalks 18:29
18:31

a recall --

tedtalks 18:31
18:33

we pretend like what we're doing

tedtalks 18:33
18:36

doesn't have a huge impact on other people.

tedtalks 18:36
18:39

I would say to companies, this is not our first rodeo, people.

tedtalks 18:40
18:42

We just need you to be authentic and real

tedtalks 18:42
18:44

and say, "We're sorry.

tedtalks 18:44
18:47

We'll fix it."

tedtalks 18:50
18:52

But there's another way, and I'll leave you with this.

tedtalks 18:52
18:54

This is what I have found:

tedtalks 18:54
18:56

to let ourselves be seen,

tedtalks 18:56
18:58

deeply seen,

tedtalks 18:58
19:01

vulnerably seen;

tedtalks 19:01
19:03

to love with our whole hearts,

tedtalks 19:03
19:05

even though there's no guarantee --

tedtalks 19:05
19:07

and that's really hard,

tedtalks 19:07
19:10

and I can tell you as a parent, that's excruciatingly difficult --

tedtalks 19:12
19:15

to practice gratitude and joy

tedtalks 19:15
19:17

in those moments of terror,

tedtalks 19:17
19:19

when we're wondering, "Can I love you this much?

tedtalks 19:19
19:21

Can I believe in this this passionately?

tedtalks 19:21
19:24

Can I be this fierce about this?"

tedtalks 19:24
19:26

just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen,

tedtalks 19:26
19:29

to say, "I'm just so grateful,

tedtalks 19:29
19:32

because to feel this vulnerable means I'm alive."

tedtalks 19:33
19:36

And the last, which I think is probably the most important,

tedtalks 19:36
19:39

is to believe that we're enough.

tedtalks 19:39
19:41

Because when we work from a place,

tedtalks 19:41
19:44

I believe, that says, "I'm enough,"

tedtalks 19:45
19:48

then we stop screaming and start listening,

tedtalks 19:49
19:51

we're kinder and gentler to the people around us,

tedtalks 19:51
19:54

and we're kinder and gentler to ourselves.

tedtalks 19:54
19:56

That's all I have. Thank you.

tedtalks 19:56
19:59

(Applause)