Wow! Thanks everyone for the great interaction and response to last week’s post about shutting down technology and being present. I want to balance those thoughts and ideas with a thought on what it takes to engage one another. I say balance because it’s easy to address a topic by saying what we should not do. I want to also offer something that we should do. After all, most of us could attest to the fact that our mobile technology is often a buffer to protect us from the uneasiness of not knowing how to be fully present.
I want to share some insights from my friend, Mike Wilcox. Mike spends a lot of time working with missionaries, helping them process through some extreme wounds, hurt, and brokenness. Last June, I spent some time with Mike talking about what it takes to engage these folks and how he helps them engage others. One of the jewels of our conversation was the way he nuanced the ideas of vulnerability, transparency, and authenticity.
I know for many of us those three words are synonymous. Mike, however, helpfully clarified these terms for me. Contrary to what I had believed, vulnerability and transparency are not necessarily good things for a community. Let me share how he explained it.
1. Vulnerability. Vulnerability has to do with sharing one’s flaws and weaknesses, letting down your guard so that others can see who you really are. However, think about how we use vulnerability in everyday language. It’s usually an indication of weakness or exposure. When a city or an opponent is vulnerable, it means there’s a weakness to be taken advantage of. For most people, vulnerability is associated with the emotional picture of rolling over and being kicked. People who are vulnerable share their brokenness and basically go “belly up”. They allow people to critique them, judge them, and take advantage of the weakness because they think that that’s what being in true relationship is about.
2. Transparency. On the other end of the emotional spectrum, transparency has to do with a brazen, “I don’t care what you think. Here’s who I am,” sort of attitude. Transparent people air their laundry and their brokenness in almost a flaunting fashion. They almost dare people to question them, to push back. They detonate a bomb in the context of community, then say they were doing it to be transparent. Instead of rolling over and being kicked, transparency has the emotional picture of standing up in someone’s face and daring them to judge or comment. Have you ever been in a setting where someone shared something akin to detonating a bomb? The group has no idea how to respond. Talk about awkward.
Do you see what is lacking in both? Discernment. Mike helped me realize that an important aspect of being present with people is to be aware of who is present with you. Vulnerability ignores the possibility that the persons you engage with may not be safe or mature enough to engage with you at the level you’re seeking. Transparency disregards the needs of those you are engaging with by putting your own needs first. Both are unilateral: vulnerability is a one-way relationship from the community to you. You are at their mercy. Transparency is a one-way relationship from you to the community. They are at yours. Neither is true relationship.
So where does this leave us? The goal in being present with people is authenticity. Authenticity takes an accurate assessment of not only who I am, but also of the community I am engaged with. Authenticity believes the Gospel not only for myself (so that I can confess my brokenness and shortcomings), but also for the one I am engaging with (so that I can share in such a way that it gives grace to those who hear).
Have you ever sat with someone who is authentic? You can tell that they’re not just wantonly pouring out their heart to you, and at the same time, they’re not closed off and distant. They are present with you. All of them. They’re not hiding anything. They’re not trying to be something they’re not. They’re not weak, yet they are dependent. They’re not insensitive, and yet they can share sensitive things. Authentic people are genuine, and their authenticity makes you feel like you can be real too. They are comfortable, honest, and PRESENT.
When we’re seeking authenticity with the people we are in community with, we can learn how to truly engage at the appropriate level and at the right times. How have you experienced authenticity in your relationships? Leave a comment below.