Brené Brown on The Price of Invulnerability at TEDxKC (Full Transcript)

Brené Brown at TEDxKC

Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She studies vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. Below is the full transcript of Dr. Brown’s TEDx Talk titled ‘The Price of Invulnerability’ at TEDxKC conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: The price of invulnerability by Brené Brown at TEDxKC


So, I’m going to start by walking you into a scene in a movie and then I want you all to tell me what happens next.

Christmas Eve. Beautiful night. Light snowfall. Young family of four in the car, on the way to grandma’s house for dinner. They’re listening to the radio station, the one that starts playing the Christmas music like right at Halloween. “Jingle Bells” comes on. The kids in the back seat go crazy. Everyone breaks into song. The camera pans in on the faces of the kids, the mom, dad…

What happens next? Car crash. 60% of people say “car crash”. Sixty percent. Another 10% to 15% have equally fatalistic answers, but more creative. I have: “The camera cuts to the oncologist, who is looking at the bad news that he’s going to share the day after Christmas.” I have: “They get to grandmother’s house, everyone is dead, a serial killer is on the loose.” And I had one dude who worked in a shark attack. I did.

What’s interesting to me about this and I — it’s an indictment, a little bit, of the media, which I wouldn’t so much care about, except that I’m a vulnerability researcher, and I’ve spent the last 10 years studying vulnerability, and I cannot tell you how many hundreds and hundreds of stories that I’ve collected from people who, that is their response, not just to media, but in their real lives. How many parents I’ve interviewed who will say: “…and I’m looking at my children, and they’re sleeping, and I’m on this — just right at the verge of bliss, and I picture something horrible happening.” Do you know this? Yes.

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I get the promotion, and I get to fly up to headquarters, you know, to find out about my new job. And what’s going to happen? Plane crashes. The fatalistic response is not universal. We’re not all like that. But it is a symptom of an issue that is both universal and, I believe, profoundly dangerous. And that is: We are losing our tolerance for vulnerability.

And in our culture, we — what do we think is synonymous with vulnerability? Weakness. You are an excellent audience. It’s almost as if I trained you. It’s perfect. Weakness. And I am going to talk about how that’s not the case, tonight.

Vulnerability is absolutely at the core of fear, and anxiety, and shame, and very difficult emotions that we all experience. But vulnerability is also the birthplace of joy, of love, of belonging, of creativity, of faith. And so it becomes very problematic when, as a culture, we lose our capacity to be vulnerable.

So, this kind of fatalistic car crash is a symptom. I refer to it as “foreboding joy”. One of the symptoms that we’re losing our capacity for vulnerability is that joy actually becomes foreboding. Something good happens, or we’re looking at someone we love, or we’re thinking about something we care about, and then we become compelled to beat vulnerability to the punch.

Other symptoms: Disappointment as a lifestyle. It is much easier to live disappointed than it is to feel disappointment. And so, this is the person in the afterschool movie that’s: “I don’t want to play your stupid game because it’s dumb and boring and because really maybe nobody will ask me.” We sidestep getting excited about something, because we’re not sure it’s actually going to happen.

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