Padre’s Corner: Vulnerability

St. Brendan’s Chapel at Stadacona. CFB HALIFAX

Padre’s Corner: Vulnerability

By LCdr David Jackson
Senior Fleet Chaplain, Canadian Fleet Atlantic

I recently watched a TED Talk shared by Brené Brown called, “The Power of Vulnerability”. In it, Brown shares a definition of shame as “fear of disconnection.” The idea being that people often struggle with their self-worth and consequently are fearful of being vulnerable. 

Frequently, the concept of vulnerability is seen as a weakness, rather than a positive trait. This is especially prevalent in a military context. However, I believe vulnerability can be a positive attribute, and should be incorporated and encouraged as a characteristic of healthy leadership in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). It is critical that leaders in the CAF connect meaningfully with others. All leaders, at all rank levels in the CAF can show compassion, be approachable and available to encourage collegial connections and foster a sense of vulnerability. 

So, how do you deal with and approach the vulnerabilities of others in light of your own? Each of us have vulnerabilities and varying levels of openness regarding those vulnerabilities. It is not easy being vulnerable. Being vulnerable with others requires rapport and trust with them – especially trust. Once that trust is established, then it is possible to connect with others and risk being authentic and vulnerable. 

Within a culture of trust, others will feel a greater sense of worth and belonging, rather than shame or fear of disconnection. An awareness of this dynamic can help CAF members approach their colleagues with compassion, so that members throughout our organization feel safe enough to open-up and risk being vulnerable. 

That said, vulnerability has its limitations in certain contexts. Notwithstanding, there should be an appropriate balance between leadership and vulnerability. One cannot categorically be vulnerable with everyone all the time. However, you can ensure there are people in your life you trust and with whom you permit yourself vulnerability to have the strength to be there for others. 

It is important to remember that we must show the same compassion to ourselves, so that we can be compassionate with others. If we never allow ourselves to be vulnerable, this can cause us to be isolated or inward-thinking, to lose perspective and risk becoming mentally and spiritually unwell. We afford the people around us permission to be vulnerable as we model that vulnerability for them. So, as part of a greater culture of care, may we incorporate this concept of vulnerability as a positive aspect of leadership in the CAF.