vulnerability and conflict

In learning, relationships, stories by Jay Clouse

There’s a lot of talk these days about vulnerability and the need for people to embrace making themselves vulnerable. It’s something I’ve put a lot of thought and intent into over the last several months, with varying degrees of success.

For one, it’s difficult for me to understand the line between transparency and vulnerability. This newsletter, my social media, the way I interact with people — I’m very honest and transparent. But I rarely feel truly vulnerable — and I think that stems from a place of protection.

Vulnerability, to me, is giving someone the power or opportunity to emotionally harm you — and that’s not an opportunity I give to people.

I do think it’s something worth working on, because I think it prevents me from being fully human. There’s probably not a more distinctly un-human thing to say, but it’s true.

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In a similar vein, I realized yesterday that there’s another aspect of personal relationships and communication that I avoid more than I should, and that’s conflict.

I am excellent at avoiding conflict, which on its face feels like a skill — but I realize that I’m skirting a necessary part of communication.

Imagine a movie or story where there is no conflict for the protagonist. What’s the point? Where is the story going?

That may be a flawed metaphor, but there is natural flows of tension and release in our lives and relationships. When tension builds, conflict provides the opportunity for release.

I’m not advocating for conflict for the sake of conflict, but I do think I forfeit the opportunity for tough conversations that would move things long faster. It doesn’t have to be done maliciously or in a way that has long-term consequences.

I too often view conflict as a potential risk to the relationship. But out of conflict comes understanding, growth, and progress.

Note that understanding, growth, and progress are all difficult things to achieve — just like conflict is difficult to face and work through.


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