By Brené Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W.
160 pages; Hazelden
Available at | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound

Practicing courage, compassion, and connection in our daily lives is how we cultivate worthiness. The key word is practice. Mary Daly, a theologian, writes, “Courage is like—it’s a habitus, a habit, a virtue: You get it by courageous acts. It’s like you learn to swim by swimming. You learn courage by couraging.” The same is true for compassion and connection. We invite compassion into our lives when we act compassionately toward ourselves and others, and we feel connected in our lives when we reach out and connect.

Before I define these concepts and talk about how they work, I want to show you how they work together in real life—as practices. This is a personal story about the courage to reach out, the compassion that comes from saying, “I’ve been there,” and the connections that fuel our worthiness.

The Gun-for-Hire Shame Storm
Not too long ago, the principal of a large public elementary school and the president of the school’s parent-teacher organization (PTO) invited me to speak to a group of parents about the relationship between resilience and boundaries. I was in the process of collecting data about Wholehearted parenting and schools at the time, so I was excited about the opportunity. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

The second I walked into the school auditorium, I felt this really strange vibe from the parents in the audience. They almost seemed agitated.

I asked the principal about it, and she just shrugged her shoulders and walked away. The PTO president didn’t have much to say about it either. I chalked it up to my nerves and tried to let it go.

I was sitting in the front row when the principal introduced me. This is always a very awkward experience for me. Someone is running through a list of my accomplishments while I’m secretly trying to stave off vomiting and talking myself out of running. Well, this introduction was beyond anything I had ever experienced.

The principal was saying things like, “You might not like what you’re going to hear tonight, but we need to listen for the sake of our children. Dr. Brown is here to transform our school and our lives! She’s going to set us straight whether we like it or not!”

She was talking in this loud, aggressive voice that made her seem downright pissed off. I felt like I was being introduced for WWE Wrestle­Mania. All we needed were the Jock Jams and a few strobe lights.

In hindsight, I should have walked up to the podium and said, “I’m feeling very uncomfortable. I’m excited to be here, but I’m certainly not here to set anyone straight. I also don’t want you to think that I’m trying to transform your school in an hour. What’s going on?”

But I didn’t. I just started talking in my vulnerable I’m-a-researcher-but-I’m-also-a-struggling-parent way. Well, the die had been cast. These parents were not receptive. Instead, I felt row after row of people glaring at me.

One man, who was sitting right up front, had his arms folded across his chest and his teeth clenched so tightly that the veins in his neck were popping out. Every three or four minutes he’d shift in his seat, roll his eyes, and sigh louder than I’ve ever heard anyone sigh. It was so loud that I’m barely comfortable calling it a sigh. It was more like a humph! It was so bad that the people next to him were visibly mortified by his behavior. They were still inexplicably unhappy with me, but he was making the entire evening unbearable for all of us.

As an experienced teacher and group leader, I know how to handle these situations and am normally comfortable doing so. When someone is being disruptive, you really only have two choices: ignore him or take a break so that you can privately confront him about his inappropriate behavior. I was so knocked off my game by this weird experience that I did the very worst thing possible: I tried to impress him.

I started talking louder and getting really animated. I quoted scary research statistics that would freak out any parent. I served up my authenticity for a big ole helping of You better listen to me or your kids are going to drop out of third grade and take up hitchhiking, drugs, and running with scissors.

Nothing. Nada.