I was on a call last week when these words grabbed me: “The only thing technology can’t take away from us is empathy and emotion—seeing other cultures and countries from a more human place,” she said.
While our conversation was in the context of travel, I realized this week how it relates to life beyond developing cultural empathy and understanding from the ground-level.
On a global scale, as news stories brush over the internet and our conscious this week with harassment scandals and reportage aimed at dividing us—at the root of our struggle is our desire for true belonging.
As women courageously share our stories we've kept hidden far too long, we make the first steps into the wilderness. The truth—our truth—is ultimately what leads us together.
Which, is what Brene Browns latest book, Braving the Wilderness, is all about. It discusses the quest for true belonging, and the courage to stand alone. Given the events of this past week, this message feels more relevant than ever. Here's Why.
The Feedback Loop
Brown talks about the feedback loop we’re stuck in, and how the sorting of sides leads us to make assumptions about the people around us, which in turn fuels disconnection.
“Bishop’s book tells the story of how we’ve geographically, politically, and even spiritually sorted ourselves into like-minded groups in which we silence dissent, grow more extreme in our thinking, and consume only facts that support our beliefs—making it even easier to ignore evidence that our positions are wrong. He writes, “As a result, we now live in a giant feedback loop, hearing our own thoughts about what’s right and wrong bounced back to us by the television shows we watch, the newspapers and books we read, the blogs we visit online, the sermons we hear, and the neighborhoods we live in.”
On one hand, we may think sorting has caused us to have deeper social connection, because we’re hanging out idealogically and geographically with people who we perceive to be like us. If so, then shouldn’t that mean we’ve surrounded ourselves with friends and people who whom we feel deeply connected?
Shouldn’t the “You’re either with us or against us” mentality lead to closer ties among the like-minded?
In Braving the Wilderness, Brown says the answer is a resounding and surprising no, because at the same time sorting is on the rise, so is loneliness.
Brown cites neuroscience researcher John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago (whose been studying loneliness for over 20 years) saying this is because,“as members of a social species, we don’t derive strength from our rugged individualism, but rather from our collective ability to plan, communicate, and work together.”
We’re a social species, wired for connection and true belonging. But true belonging requires vulnerability and a willingness to choose courage over comfort.
To find true belonging, we’ll have to learn to get through, Brown says, or even better, become the wilderness.
Brown says it’s hard to hate anyone close up—we have to move in. She says the restitution and resolution of cover-ups almost always happens in the wilderness—when one person steps outside their bunker and speaks their truth.
Becoming the Wilderness
In the context of our world in this moment in time, each day women continue to break our silence, share our stories, speak our truth. And these stories aren't easy, but they're necessary. According to Brown, speaking our truth is the first step in entering the wilderness of true belonging.
“As we think about our journey from “fitting in” to striding into the wilderness of true belonging, we will be well served by understanding and recognizing the boundaries of respecting everyone’s physical safety, and not participating in experiences or communities that utilize language and/or engage in behaviors that dehumanize people.”
The last part is especially relevant—to focus on the truth, rather than engage in behaviors that dehumanize people. We live in a world where cops are called pigs, we call the President a monster and an assaulter an animal. But this language doesn't serve us, in this quest for true belonging.
Beginning to brave the wilderness on a societal and systemic level involves courage, vulnerability, and stories. And every story matters, as actress Viola Davis said in the book. We are all worthy of telling our stories and having them heard. We all need to be seen and honored in the same way that we all need to breathe.
When Brown asked Davis if true belonging took the shape of a practice for her, Davis said, "Yes."
Practice of True Belonging
Davis said, "Today, I like by a few simple rules:
- I am doing the best I can
- I will allow myself to be seen
- Go further. Don’t be afraid. Put it all out there. Don’t leave anything on the floor.
- I will not be a mystery to my daughter. She will know me and I will share my stories with her—the stories of failure, shame, and accomplishment. She will know she’s not alone in that wilderness.
I know you're feeling the outer chaos on the inside at times right now. But I think this message is especially important right now, to remind us that the feedback loop and sorting only divides us. The truth is what sets us free.
Your stories matter, your truth matters, the way you feel matters. Braving the wilderness as a collective whole starts on an individual level. Start now, by saying these words back to yourself:
“This is who I am.
“This is where I am from.
“This is my mess.
“This is what is means to belong to myself.”
Enter your wilderness with courage and grace.
Let your truth guide you onward.