Yesterday we met our daughter and her family at an ice cream stand cum small playground. While the girls were enjoying their ice cream, Charlotte, 4, had to tell us about a recent minor accident where she had scraped her knee. Of course, being a kid, just telling us about it was not enough; she had to pull up her jeans to show us. There it was - her injury, nicely healing.
I wondered later why children love to show their boo-boos. No embarrassment, no hesitation. Maybe they’re just proud to be “survivors,” or maybe they just want sympathy. Whatever it is, most of us lose that desire to display weakness by the time we are adults. By then, we're told: Be Strong. Be Capable. Be Tough.
The few times we are required to show our weaknesses, we are encouraged to diminish their importance. I’ve read more than once that in a job interview, when the applicant is asked about her weaknesses, she should state them in such a way that they seem to be actually strengths, such as instead of “I work so much that I neglect family and other priorities in my life,” one should say, “I work too hard,” for after all, who doesn’t want to hire a hard worker? Instead of saying, “I’m such a perfectionist that I can’t even work in a team because, in my arrogance, nobody ever comes up my standards,” you just say, “I’m a perfectionist,” for after all, we need people with high standards, don’t we?
It’s OK to be weak, it’s OK to be injured or scarred. Lord knows, that’s what it means to be human. Of course, there are some people who are emotionally imbalanced and take it to an extreme, something termed emotional exhibitionism, where you bare your entire life and soul for anyone and everyone. But most people are very afraid of appearing vulnerable or defective - inadequate. Sometimes this reveals itself when you try to appear to know more than you do, or seeming to possess skills that you don’t actually have. I think the phrase, “I don’t know” has gotten a bad rap, for in many cases, it is the perfect response. From politicians to teachers, people are afraid that admitting lack of knowledge makes them seem weak. In my opinion, even experts had to have a learning curve at one time. Everyone is a beginner at one point. And if your fear of looking inadequate or vulnerable makes you avoid asking for help or requesting information that will help you learn, grow and expand, then you just dig yourself a deeper hole.
I'll admit it - I’m vulnerable. I’m a klutz and I am accident-prone. In a lot of things, I’m physically, emotionally, or mentally incapable of greatness. I’m moderately deficient in a lot of skills and knowledge, and wildly deficient in others. I’m willing to admit my weaknesses and imperfections, and will nod vigorously if it is suggested that I need improvement in many areas. Writing those sentences doesn’t make me feel weak or depressed. It actually gives me hope and some good reasons to get up in the morning and some desire to set goals. Life is growth, and if you’re really a seeding trying to make everyone think you’re a full-grown plant, it can get ridiculous. We’ve all got a lot of growing to do, and we’ll get many knee scrapes on the way. That doesn’t make us weak. It just means we’re moving.