Underneath the armor
If truth is the crux of human freedom, then so, too, is vulnerability, because the truth is: so long as we are human, we are vulnerable. Vulnerable means “capable of being wounded,” coming from the Latin vulnerāre, meaning “to wound.” As a human, there is never a moment when we are not at the mercy of wounding. But are we capable of it? There is always the possibility that our bodies will suffer injury, illness, or death, always the possibility that our minds will believe a thought that causes us harm, always the possibility that our hearts will be stung and broken by the ever-shifting circumstances of our lives. So, the question isn’t whether we are vulnerable or not. We are. The question is rather, can we cultivate capacity for the unceasing reality of our exposure, our tenderness, our interdependence, and the inconvenient fact that we do not and will never have absolute control over anything? Can we be not just subject to our wounding, but capable of it?
To become capable of our wounding, open to touching and knowing and dignifying that soft spot of our humanity, to embody the responsive presence in which vulnerability can be felt: this is our responsibility, no matter how much we might fight it, neglect it, or deny it. What this responsibility asks of me will be different than what it asks of you: how I open to my own won’t be how you open to yours, and how I support you in yours won’t be how you support me in mine. We all have our own course of lessons to labor. We all have our own love story to live.
To become capable of our vulnerability—to align with the truth of who we are as woundable beings and to present ourselves to the world as such—is a privilege, is work that requires social, political, and spiritual resources. Barring a few extraordinary exceptions, we humans will wear our armor so long as the available evidence suggests to us that we need it, and some of us, most of us, really do need it. Those of us whose vulnerability poses an existential threat can’t be expected to be the first in the fray of our society to begin unbuckling their breastplates. The responsibility rests on those of us who have the resources to turn to when, after revealing our woundable hearts, we are indeed wounded.
How else will the battle end? Winning the battle doesn’t end the battle, doesn’t transform the paradigm. Only in discovering and revealing what’s underneath the armor do we begin to live our way into a new world together.
Those of us who are resourced enough to risk it must endeavor to make a sanctuary of ourselves by relating to and with and from our vulnerability. What’s at stake is nothing less than our ability to be liberated human beings, our true selves, and to authentically, effectively support the truth and the freedom of the people we meet. Otherwise, we march on in our armor, further becoming, as James Baldwin put it, a people “totally unlettered in the language of the heart, totally distrustful of whatever cannot be touched, panic-stricken at the very first hint of pain. A people determined to believe that they can make suffering obsolete. Who don’t understand yet a very physiological fact: that the pain which signals a toothache is a pain which saves your life.”