Currently, I am far too deep in NPR archives than I care to admit with the taste of stale coffee lingering on my lips, and surprisingly this procrastination trip has yielded fruitful insight that I want share with you.
So, NPR does this super dope project wherein it brings up-and-coming performing artists in to do an acoustic set in a tiny desk space, appropriately entitled the “Tiny Desk” series. In large part due to my avoidant behavior, and a smaller part of me that was looking for a potential reprise from the constant trap music that usually floats around in my head (fun side-note: your boss will in fact call you out if you sing about Percocet at work… just a heads up), I stumbled across a soulful rap artist named Noname. Her melodic, thoughtful words over soft jazz tones were just what I needed after what can appropriately be deemed a “rough week.”
Deeper into the performance, Noname herself elaborates more about why she chose to put these words together in this particular order (i.e. what her motivation was), a highlight of any concert in my opinion, but this particular articulation of her emotions really slapped me in the face. She said, “Thank you for appreciating my vulnerability. We should save the world with vulnerability.”
Noname has hit upon something so simplistically novel with this brief interlude. Maybe it was because I was sitting, staring at the blank research paper in front of me, pitying myself for the stupid decisions I’ve recently made (not just in terms of my biannual midterm crisis, but my personal life as well) but this statement kept lingering with me, begging for me to explore it just a bit deeper.
I think I can best describe her genius by emphasizing my own hesitancy at writing this piece. It’s hard to be witty, and careful, and protected behind trivial sexy words, when talking about a subject such as vulnerability. And saying that “I have recently made stupid decisions” is not something easy to burn explicitly into paper. Anxiety gnaws at the back of my head as I write this, whispering, “Just make sure he knows it’s not about him,” and begging me to not validate said illusive “him” with continued thought and emotion, but perhaps that is why discussing it is so important, so revolutionary.
Ironically, vulnerability has no name. Vulnerability is not that boy who “broke your heart” what seems like ages ago, or the friendship wherein amiability has become hyperextended. No, vulnerability is about you. Vulnerability is something only you can posses. As Noname states, “it is my vulnerability.” The inherent problem in our society then is that our vulnerability is so deeply ingrained into our persona that when revealed to a wrong “other,” it becomes our own downfall. That’s where Noname’s revelation becomes extremely more complex.
Admitting vulnerability is antithetical to survival. This is a fact serving as the foundation of inter-state reactions: revealing vulnerability allows for the other state to use said vulnerability to its own likely aggressively-backed advantage, no matter what the original intentions of the “other” state may be. Tactically, if I am in a battle and I trumpet out, “Ay yo, I have left City Y unguarded,” my opponent would directly advantage by attacking City Y. Although in this situation showing your hand so bluntly initially comes off as stupid, it may actually be self-advantageous. If you put it out there that you understand this particular facet is weak, the other side cannot take advantage of your weakness with their own aggressiveness in a surprise attack. Moreover, you have made it clear that you are not so enchanted by your own strength to think that City Y could stand against the opponent on its own. You have already self-identified your own weakness, and manipulated it to your advantage, making it harder for the opponent to use it against you.
This is the tactic of vulnerability appreciation that Noname thinks can “save the world,” perhaps just one individual at a time. By recognizing that I cannot do something, while it makes me feel fucking stupid, and humiliated, and embarrassed at first, explicitly stating so will eventually inevitably put me back in control of the situation. No matter the person, if I lay out my weakness, they can no longer harm me by discovering it for themselves. I am not allowing for them to take my vulnerability from me, I keep it, along with whatever power over the situation I initially had. Vulnerability then can only harm me if I become disillusioned by it, if I refuse to listen to it, to engage with the possibilities its unavoidable presence inherently brings.
People are not wars. If I leave you with nothing else then this week, remember that, and go into this weekend with that mindset. Be fucking nice to someone. Appreciate their vulnerabilities. Appreciate your vulnerabilities. And I’ll be damned; maybe we’ll eventually be stronger for it.