Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"Boomers," our parents, and authenticity

Yesterday responding to a letter about his negative reaction to Mark Driscoll’s latest book, Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk made some useful distinctions:
.... I am a member of a generation (Baby Boomers) that has promoted the idea that qualities like vulnerability are key to a healthy life and relationships. The accepted wisdom is that the generations before us were “uptight” and kept secrets. Our parents and grandparents lived in a culture of “shame” that valued a respectable outward appearance, while the reality underneath was often not so pretty. Taboos were strong and subjects like sex were not talked about freely and openly. It wasn’t the Victorian Age, but it might as well have been.

But that is not all. Feelings of all kinds were not shared aloud. It was considered bad form, a loss of self-control, an admission of weakness. “Keeping up appearances” was paramount. We feared shame more than hypocrisy. We feared loss of status and the disapproval of our peers. We didn’t like drawing attention to ourselves. We hated to think that people might pity us or think we were not self-reliant. ....

I know these folks well. I grew up among them. I have always had a healthy representation of them in my churches. As a hospice chaplain, I now visit with them daily. This is what I hear and have heard my whole life about “vulnerability.” ....
He discusses the reaction to my parents' generation: that "authenticity" and "vulnerability" and "transparency" were better — and he affirms that — but then:
I think that the practice of “vulnerability” as personal transparency may have gone to seed. ....

Vulnerability defined as “letting it all hang out” is not necessarily the same thing as serving others personally and humbly in my weakness. “Telling my story” may be more about meeting my own needs than about ministering to others. Sharing my feelings and personal experiences can be an act of humility and generosity, or a selfish attempt to put myself in the spotlight. It can keep me from listening well to what another is saying. It can prevent me from understanding my friend’s needs by keeping the focus on my own “need” to share. I may be so intent on sharing the details of my life that I fail to see that what I share about myself may be irrelevant to my friend’s situation. My story may give them a completely misleading idea about what it means for their journey.

Being vulnerable or transparent, sharing my feelings, speaking honestly and openly about my own mistakes and failures, confessing my doubts and fears and limitations, acknowledging my weaknesses, being willing to laugh at myself, shed tears without shame, admit my need for help, and say, “I don’t know” — these are essential qualities of humility and honesty. These qualities won’t look the same in everybody, they will be channeled through our individual personalities and temperaments. But they are necessary if we are to relate to one another well.

But…

Vulnerability must always be limited and guided by love. To love means to be with another and for another for their benefit. If allowing a glimpse inside my life through telling my story or sharing my feelings will accomplish that, then I should do so thoughtfully and with care and discernment. But I may be called to simply listen, ministering by my silence and presence. It may be more important for me to point my friend away from me in order to provide help. What is essential is that I am committed to loving others by laying down my life for them. But “laying down my life” does not always mean “sharing every detail of my life.”

The love that limits and guides vulnerability is a virtuous love. Sharing my life transparently with others is limited by love that recognizes a place for privacy. Certain details of life are private. Some things are not meant to be shared with anyone but kept in my own heart. Other things are meant only to be shared with those who share my private spaces. Without that, intimacy with the appropriate people in our lives is not possible. ....
Virtue and the Limits of Vulnerability | internetmonk.com