By Trudy Chapman

This is a book made for our times. If you, like me, have been feeling a sense of disconnection and anomie from our society as we see civility crumble and mob-mentality run amok on social media, this is a book for you.

Dr. Brené Brown is a researcher-storyteller from the University of Houston. She’s been in the business of studying shame and vulnerability for almost 20 years. She’s now out telling her stories about the human condition and what her deep research into us has shown. Her latest book is called “Braving the Wilderness” and it’s a great read!

It’s hard to speak about the current book without first understanding what her research first uncovered. She initially gained attention with her 2010 TedTalk on the power of vulnerability where she shared her initial conclusions coming out of her research.

Brown spoke about the power of connection; of how in order to be connected, we had to be willing to be seen for exactly who we are; which means we need to be both courageous and vulnerable. And yet, vulnerability hurts, it shames, and at the same time vulnerability is the birthplace of wholehearted living.

People who live wholeheartedly:

  • have the courage to be imperfect;
  • have the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others;
  • experience connection as a result of authenticity – they are willing to let go of who they thought
  • they should be in order to be who they are; and
  • fully embrace their vulnerability and see it as a necessary thing, something that makes them beautiful.

In 2012 and a subsequent TedTalk she spoke about how we listen to shame. She spoke with understanding about how shame holds us back from trying something for fear of failing; how shame gets in the way of having honest conversations about some of the things that must be resolved if we are to move forward as people, as families, as societies.

Shame suggests to us there is something inherently wrong with us, and we need to hide that knowledge. It is hard to admit, and even harder to talk about. And yet talk we must.

Acknowledging and working with our own shame allows us to see our part in modern day reconciliation with our Indigenous Peoples in Canada, for example. It puts gender discrimination in a different frame. In the US, it will help to unlock understanding around racism and class differences. Shame is one key to entering into difficult conversations. Ones that matter if society as a whole is to heal.

She also wrote several books about her research findings that are making the rounds and calling us all to listen and engage with one another in real conversations, in real time, about topics that matter to us, even where we disagree with each other. All of this comes together in Braving the Wilderness. It is a roadmap to having these types of difficult conversations.

In fine style, she winnows her map down to four guide posts:

People are hard to hate close up. Move in.
Speak truth to bullshit. Be civil.
Hold hands. With strangers.
Strong back. Soft Front. Wild heart.

She encourages us all to stand in the wilderness and be brave. The wilderness is a place where you find yourself speaking out when no one else will. It’s standing up with courage for the things you believe in and don’t want to see destroyed.

Being in the wilderness requires trust, and she’s identified seven elements of trust that emerged from the research:

  • boundaries;
  • reliability;
  • accountability;
  • vault;
  • integrity;
  • non-judgement; and
  • generosity.

I urge you to buy her book and give it a read. There are too many nuggets in there to share here but suffice to say I’m loving this read. It’s accessible, timely, and essential to rebuilding us and our civil and just societies.

This book review was originally published on Trudy’s blog at Chapman Coaching Inc. Trudy is an executive and life coach in Ottawa, ON.