Social scientist and University of Houston research professor Brené Brown has taken the world by storm with her New York Times bestselling books: Rising Strong, Daring Greatly, and The Gifts of Imperfection. Her ability to cut to the heart of difficult and personal issues such as courage, vulnerability, and shame, backed by both professional research and the gift of storytelling, has resonated with millions. Her TEDTalk entitled “The Power of Vulnerability” has been viewed more than thirty million times, making it one of the top five most viewed in the world.
It's no wonder then that Brown’s new book, Braving the Wilderness (which came out on September 12), is getting plenty of buzz. Wilderness takes a look at what “true belonging” is, ranging from the intense desire to be part of a group to being true to yourself and having the courage to stand up for who you are. The current political and social climate, where anyone can easily lock into news that fits their worldview and block out anything that doesn’t coincide with what they personally believe, makes discovering this sense of true belonging exceedingly difficult. In her new book, Brown outlines many ways to see through the anger, social media slurring, and our walled-in mentality to broaden our perceptions and have the courage to be our true selves even in the face of criticism and opposition—that is, to stand bravely in the wilderness.
Here are some of Brown’s best moments from the book.
01. It’s a lot harder to hate someone in person than it is to judge them behind the wall of social media.
Do you ever see someone share something provocative on Facebook and assume that if they support that idea or group of people, then it likely follows that they have to support everything you’ve negatively connected to that group? Instead, Brown urges us to “get close.” After all, that same person might be your family member and the first to volunteer to pick you up from the hospital. In getting close to someone we see them more for who they are as a whole rather than just for one of their opinions. It’s harder to pigeonhole them. By seeing their actions, talking to them face-to-face, and listening to their stories we often realize that person is so much more than our assumptions of them.
02. There’s pressure to have an opinion on every topic, even if you don’t know anything about it. But it’s OK not to.
What average person knows how a government is run in a particular remote country, or about how mega-corporations make restructuring decisions? Yet many of us still feel compelled to weigh in on a subject to avoid feeling the shame of being uninformed. Brown asserts that when we think we already know it all, we lose our curiosity and desire to actually learn about the topic, as well as propagate false or misguided information. Instead of weighing in on a topic, take the time to learn more. If someone engages you in the topic, tell them you’re not familiar with it and ask them to tell you more. Take the time to fact check.
03. “You’re either with me or against me” is not the only answer to an argument.
You know the mentality—“pick a team.” Is your coworker for your proposal, or against it? Does the city need new public transportation—yes, or no? This mentality of choosing sides eliminates any gray area, and that's not realistic. When you stand up for what you truly believe, when you stand in the wilderness and maintain your own integrity, it can make people uncomfortable. But by choosing to be specific about your thoughts, you can avoid being pushed into a choice where you don’t agree with everything that "side" entails. Suggest that while you may like the new work proposal, you see places where it needs some adjustments. Instead of choosing to place yourself firmly on one side of a decision unquestioningly, express what you like and don’t like, even if your opinions share aspects of both sides. Brown notes that this won’t always make you popular, but it will help make you belong truly to yourself.
04. Words from both sides of an issue can be weapons.
When there’s a hot button topic to be discussed, it stands to reason that people on either side will feel very strongly that they are right. Anger flows, and even when we truly believe we have the moral high ground, that doesn’t always prevent us from using words as weapons. It’s easy to become offended when we care greatly about something. Instead of assuming people intentionally mean harm or are apathetic, take the time to engage them. Say a neighbor loads up their trash can with items that could be recycled. Instead of writing passive-aggressive notes to them or even confronting them angrily about it, say, “Hey, I see some of your items are recyclable—would you mind if I placed them with my items?” Will the response in return always be civil? Not always. But by maintaining your civility, you’re maintaining your integrity.
05. Witness and partake in real-life human connections and collective joy (meaning, bond over good things).
What are some memories you have of being with other people—even strangers—that give you the “warm fuzzies”? Singing together at a concert, arms raised into the air. Watching people come together to help those stranded in the flood waters from Hurricane Harvey. These are the moments, these shared face-to-face, real life actions, that show the good side of humanity and help us realize how wonderful people still are. If you're tired of seeing all the anger and vitriol on your Facebook page, try volunteering with a group to serve meals to the homeless, or call a friend or two to go spend some time together in the park. Go to a concert, or a sporting event. Experience joy. For that, as Brown says, is the only way to be able to share joy.
How you engage in the world around you is your choice. The hotbed of anger and broad assumptions can be overcome, one person at a time. As Brown says near the end of Braving the Wilderness, “I’ve come to the conclusion that the way we engage with social media is like fire—you can use them to keep yourself warm and nourished, or you can burn down the barn. It all depends on your intentions, expectations, and reality-checking skills.”