As part of her New Year’s resolution, a friend of mine is trying to watch a few TED talks a week. Together we were revisiting Brene Brown’s moving TED talk on vulnerability as a key to emotional connection and I was struck by her use of the word, “worthiness.” (Many, hopefully most, of you have seen this talk, it was given in 2010. If you haven’t seen it, I’d suggest you take 20 min and watch it, especially with someone you love. It’s well worth the time). MRaynes blogged about Dr. Brown’s book here.
In Mormon culture, we hear worthiness so often associated with a checklist of behaviors we may or may not do, according to current church teachings and policies (these have changed widely over the years). Even things as small as the number of earrings a girls wears, the length of her hem, or if she wears a skirt or pants to church may fall into the worthiness category. For me, the notion of worthiness sometimes brings with it feelings of guilt of not being perfect. Perhaps this has to do with how worthiness is gauged by someone outside ourselves, often a priesthood leader. Also, there are so many categories to measure our worthiness, we’re bound to not hit them all, and often feel guilty about our shortcomings. Additionally, I wonder if it’s also part of a culture of guilt within Mormonism. Needless to say, worthiness is not a word that makes me feel warm and fuzzy. I’ve never really associated it with connection to others or really even about something I would determine for myself.
That was why I was so surprised that Dr. Brown describes the main difference between two groups of people: those who feel strong connections with others and those who don’t, as an issue of worthiness.
The first group she describes as the “wholehearted” having, “a strong sense of love and belonging” while others are “wondering if they’re good enough.”
She posits that the only difference between these groups is that the first group, “believe they are worthy of love and belonging.” She goes on to say, “What keeps us out of connection is the fear that we aren’t worthy of connection. ”
A few more descriptions of the Wholehearted:
1. Courage- the ability to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. The courage to be imperfect.
2. Compassion- be kind to ourselves first and then others.
3. Connection as a result of authenticity. Let go of who we think we should be and embrace who we are.
4. Fully embrace vulnerability. (Still uncomfortable, not excruciating, but necessary)
If you’re looking for a new year’s resolution (or two?), I like this list as starting point. Dr. . Brown took this list to a therapist and worked through ways to embrace vulnerability. I’m on my way to one this year, in a similar effort. These ideas sound so good and seem relatively easy on paper, and yet in real life, they can be brutal. Even thinking of myself as worthy is often a struggle, but it’s something I want to master both for myself and for my children.
In a similar vein, since we often teach worthiness to children and youth in the church, I find it relevant to mention Dr. Brown’s opinion on how these ideas affect us as parents and youth leaders. She says that while we think of babies as born “perfect” and we try to keep them perfect by making sure they get on the tennis team and into Yale. However, if we instead see them as wired for struggle in life, we can teach them that they are worthy of love, no matter what happens to them and what choices they make. For the most part, this notion lines up will with Mormon doctrine. I’d like to see it better implemented in Mormon practice. Maybe a first step is acknowledging our own failings more often and expressing at the same time our continued worthiness of Christ’s love and the love of our family and friends.
I have a new friend who is in a difficult spot in life and has reached out for support from me and other women. Her honesty and vulnerability are so admirable and I feel a strong connection with her. And while nothing about her situation changes because of our friendships, I see the connections give her hope and peace. And to me, she is an example of how to be wholehearted and worthy.
What does worthiness mean to you? Do you consider yourself worthy?
I’d also love to hear a discussion on the TED talk if you’ve had a chance to read it.
Also, here is Dr. Brene Brown’s website.