None of us knows what the future holds. But we do know the values we hold dear—honesty, integrity, love, compassion, empathy, respect, tolerance. As we raise our children, we instill these values. As adults, we model these values whether we win or lose, succeed or fail, sink or swim. Watching us, they learn, and, as they go forward into their futures, they will bring these values to their own decisions. If each of us does this, we will leave the world a better brighter place for our having been here.
In this interview, Brené Brown discusses the complexity of emotions we are experiencing as a result of the pandemic and social isolation. Her words bring comfort and solace to all of us, but particularly those of us raised to believe that only positive emotions should be felt or expressed.
These are tough times. And it’s particularly difficult because this is not an emergency you have to gear up for and get through; it’s a slow burn. As she says:
“Normally, in order to get through a crisis, you know, our bodies are built to respond with a lot of adrenaline, a lot of energy, a lot of super coping surge. And then the waters recede or the fires are out or, you know, the crisis ends and we slog our way through kind of cleanup and trying to find our new normal. But we are not going to be able to depend on the adrenaline surge for this, because it’s going to out- it’s going to outpace us. And I think we are hitting that moment where we are weary in our bones. We are physically tired. We, you know, anxiety, uncertainty take a lot out of us physically. I think, you know, we’re on Zoom calls. I don’t know what happened. Like, I work a lot to begin with, but I feel like I’m on Zoom calls from 6:00 in the morning until midnight. You know, and then we’ve got toddlers crawling up our backs and partners trying to, you know, tell us to be quiet. They’re also are being called. And we’re tired. And I’ll tell you, the other thing that’s exhausting; that we are not acknowledging – again as a collective – is grief.”
And the grief is perhaps more extensive than any we’ve felt before. It’s grieving a loss of everything that was normal to us. Brown explains, “Well, I think it’s a very difficult position we’re in right now because I think we are both grieving the loss of normal and grieving the ordinary moments that make the touchstones for our lives. We’re grieving the loss of those at the very same time we’re having to find and settle into a new normal. And those two things are very difficult to do. At the same time, not mutually exclusive, but as close as it gets without being mutually exclusive. So there’s grief, I think. Grief is the loss of normal.”
And it is ok to experience that grief and mourn those losses. We are vulnerable, and there is no shame in acknowledging that:
“To be alive is to be vulnerable, to be in this pandemic, is to be vulnerable every second of every minute of every day. And the thing about vulnerability is it is difficult, but it’s not weakness. It’s the foundation and the birthplace of courage. There is no courage without risk, uncertainty and exposure. And so, you know, I’ve asked 10000 people that this question, starting with special forces military: give me an example of courage in your life that did not require uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. And in probably 15 thousand people at this point, not one person has been able to give me an example of courage that did not require vulnerability. So we need to dispel that mess and we need to acknowledge we are in a lot of vulnerability right now. That means we can be our best, bravest selves or we can be our worst selves, and I think the thing about choosing to be our most courageous selves is having to understand this is another method to style that most of us know we’re taught growing up that we’re either brave or afraid, that the truth is we can be brave and afraid at the exact same time. Most of us are in these moments today.”
We can be brave and afraid at the exact same time. We can be strong in our vulnerability. And, even though we are living a new normal, we can choose how we show up there.
How lovely it is to stand still in the enormity of your questions. To realize that what you know is minuscule in relation to all there is to know. To let your curious mind take you on a journey of discovery. How liberating it is to lay down the facade of expertise and acknowledge that, in this world, we are all students.
Life knocks us down. What helps us get back up?
It’s not about how smart we are, or who we know, or what school we went to. It’s about resilience. Our emotional IQs may be just as important, if not more important, than our actual IQs.
Our emotional intelligence is subtle:
Emotional intelligence is the “something” in each of us that is a bit intangible. It affects how we manage behavior, navigate social complexities, and make personal decisions that achieve positive results. Emotional intelligence is made up of four core skills that pair up under two primary competencies: personal competence and social competence.
And, as luck would have it, our emotional intelligence is something we can work to improve:
Unlike your IQ, your EQ is highly malleable. As you train your brain by repeatedly practicing new emotionally intelligent behaviors, your brain builds the pathways needed to make them into habits. Before long, you will begin responding to your surroundings with emotional intelligence without even having to think about it. And as your brain reinforces the use of new behaviors, the connections supporting old, destructive behaviors will die off.
Consider these nine habits of emotionally intelligent people:
1. They’re relentlessly positive.
2. They have a robust emotional vocabulary.
3. They’re assertive.
4. They’re curious about other people.
5. They forgive, but they don’t forget.
6. They won’t let anyone limit their joy.
7. They make things fun.
8. They are difficult to offend.
9. They quash negative self-talk.
Focus on the things you can control. Don’t get lost in the negativity of things beyond your sphere of influence. Remember to stay positive and joyful.
And then get yourself back up!
As you get older, do you think you know a lot or do you believe there is a lot that you don’t yet know? As young men and women, we think we have all the answers. But as we age, our experience shows us that there are many valid perspectives to something we thought was established. We learn that there is value in the multiple points of view in arriving at a more nuanced version of the truth. We realize that people can look at the same thing, but, because they are coming at the issue with different life experiences, they may see it differently and that both of those opinions may be true. In fact, it may well be that we have no hope of getting close to the concept of truth without the benefit of many points of view. We may be limited by the fetters of our own perceptions and filters.
In this very insightful TED talk, Pico Iyer shares his creeping realization that the more we know, the more we see we don’t know:
I don’t believe that ignorance is bliss. Science has unquestionably made our lives brighter and longer and healthier. And I am forever grateful to the teachers who showed me the laws of physics and pointed out that three times three makes nine. I can count that out on my fingers any time of night or day. But when a mathematician tells me that minus three times minus three makes nine, that’s a kind of logic that almost feels like trust.
The opposite of knowledge, in other words, isn’t always ignorance. It can be wonder. Or mystery. Possibility. And in my life, I’ve found it’s the things I don’t know that have lifted me up and pushed me forwards much more than the things I do know. It’s also the things I don’t know that have often brought me closer to everybody around me.
For eight straight Novembers, recently, I traveled every year across Japan with the Dalai Lama. And the one thing he said every day that most seemed to give people reassurance and confidence was, “I don’t know.”
“What’s going to happen to Tibet?” “When are we ever going to get world peace?” “What’s the best way to raise children?”
“Frankly,” says this very wise man, “I don’t know.”
It’s scary to admit we don’t know. We want to know. We want to believe that we are safe and that our futures are secure. We want to believe that if we behave in a certain way, it will result in predictable results.
The truth is harder. Honest people can be accused of deceit. Innocent people can die. Tragedy can strike. Relationships can fracture. But embracing uncertainty as the only truly certain thing in life can, in fact, be surprisingly grounding. Iyer continues:
Knowledge is a priceless gift. But the illusion of knowledge can be more dangerous than ignorance.
Thinking that you know your lover or your enemy can be more treacherous than acknowledging you’ll never know them. Every morning in Japan, as the sun is flooding into our little apartment, I take great pains not to consult the weather forecast, because if I do, my mind will be overclouded, distracted, even when the day is bright.
I’ve been a full-time writer now for 34 years. And the one thing that I have learned is that transformation comes when I’m not in charge, when I don’t know what’s coming next, when I can’t assume I am bigger than everything around me. And the same is true in love or in moments of crisis. Suddenly, we’re back in that trishaw again and we’re bumping off the broad, well-lit streets; and we’re reminded, really, of the first law of travel and, therefore, of life: you’re only as strong as your readiness to surrender.
In the end, perhaps, being human is much more important than being fully in the know.
Today embrace the uncertainty of life and enjoy the present moment right here in front of you. Around the corner, there may well be a surprise insight waiting to stretch you and challenge the very things you think you know. Embrace that, too.