A review: I thought it was just me (but it isn’t)

I first came across Brene Brown in 2011 through her now infamous TEDtalk, The power of vulnerability.  It struck a chord and in one of my late-night book-ordering binges (which was allowed when I was still a graduate student because it was all for “research”) I ordered Daring Greatly and I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t).

I started Daring Greatly first because it was, at that point, her newest work and because of the flashier title.  The Roosevelt quote, which both names and starts the book, inspired me to the extent that I spent several nights attempting to turn it into a folk song.  To as of yet no avail, I’m sorry to say.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; . . . who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”—Theodore Roosevelt

I got about halfway through the book before diving into another from my pile of binges and later, as happens when you leave the realm of education for the realm of experience, my life got busier and my list of unread books got longer.  Brown’s books quickly began to gather dust along with the other volumes, their inspiration lying dormant as I started to schedule Hearth Dinners and Book Clubs and Tiny Houses.

But this year, following yet another bout of introspection, I decided that it was time to read what Brene Brown had to say about shame and so I dived into I Thought It Was Just Me.  Immediately, I knew I had made the right choice:

“Shame,” Brown writes, “is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging,”

As someone whose life work is dedicated to fostering a sense of acceptance and belonging, I realized that this was exactly what I needed to be reading it in the second year of Miranda’s Hearth. This business, and the dream that birthed it, grew from my own disconnection.  My parents both ran to NYC as eighteen year olds, leaving their Michigan and Western Massachusetts roots behind them in search of meaning and relevance. They settled in Connecticut out of convenience and raised me and my sister in Fairfield county, a mind-bogglingly wealthy area where our middle-class hippie, divorced lifestyle stuck out like a sore thumb.

I left Connecticut as soon as I could, going to school in Virginia a mere three weeks after I turned fourteen. Four years later, I found my way to Boston alone, rootless and determined to change that.  It took me two years to realize that the community I hoped to find didn’t exist, and so in 2013 I started to build it.

While reading through Brown’s book over the past several months –I’m still in the realm of experience not education after all and late night reading is no longer the height of my activities– I thought about how far I’ve come moving, as she says, from a culture of disconnection to a culture of connection.  But I also thought about how far I have left to go.  The Hearth Community has started and is getting stronger every day but how, in this community, can we actively encourage empathy, courage, and compassion?  How can we start the necessary and difficult dialogues about living and interacting with vulnerability and authenticity?

Brown’s summary is, unsurprisingly, the best answer.  She pulls from Mavis Leno’s speech in honor of four female Nobel Peace Prize winners: “If you want to make a difference, the next time you see someone being cruel to another human being, take it personally, Take it personally because it is personal!”

Brown pulls Leno’s quote even further saying, “taking it personally means changing the culture by owning our experiences and holding ourselves and others accountable.  Too often, when we experience shame we stay quiet. If we do find the courage to tell our story, we are often told that we are “too sensitive” or that we are taking it “too personally.” I’ve never understood that.  Should we be insensitive and detached? The culture of shame feeds on insensitivity and detachment.”

This makes me all the more excited that Kara Kulpa came to me asking to start an expressive writing night.  During the new Write a Passage events, I hope that the Hearth as a community can start to touch on some of the vulnerable stories that we would rather hard.  The same stories that, in actuality, create the core of a community.

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