With way more than 1,000…okay, it was nearly 2,000…in attendance, there was no doubt that at the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center’s Appetite for Advocacy Luncheon at the Sheraton Dallas on Tuesday, April 26, something was up. Perhaps it was the speaker/best-selling author Brené Brown? Perhaps it was the occasion of DCAC’s 25th anniversary? Perhaps it was the recent and dramatic incidents of child abuse? It didn’t matter why the place was filled; it was just the fact that people were coming in droves to support DCAC’s efforts to help abused children and “provide them with an opportunity to heal.”
Long before the clock ticked down, the Sheraton parking lot was already filled as a fire truck and an ambulance took care of needs across the street at the main hotel.
Unlike years past, when the event took place on the Sheraton’s ground level, this year’s sell-out fundraiser was on the hotel’s second floor with folks like Janie McGarr, Isabell Novakov, Susan Sharp, Mary Blake, Randall and Kara Goss, Andy Stern, Irving Groves and Jen and Brad Adams.
As guests spent their time in the lobby, keynote speaker/TED wunderkind Brené Brown tested her mic in the ballroom. No problem. Everything was running right on schedule.
Another “instead of” situation was the meet-and-greet.” In years past, the speaker du jour would pose for photos and get to know the VIP types in a reception prior to the main event. But this year it was a reversal. Brené was gonna meet with them after the luncheon and then hit the airport to head home. Why the need to change things around? Well, Brené had made a promise to her family that she would only stay one night a month away from home. Since Dallas is just a quickie flight away from Brené’s hometown of Houston, she had to make it home in time for dinner. And then there were those weather threats that had been pounding the kiss-cuzzin cities of Dallas and Houston.
The only frowny situation was that, when DCAC grand dame Ruth Altshuler and grand papa Bill Walsh presented the Ruth Sharp Altshuler Award and Lt. Bill Walsh Award to Capitals for Kids and Irish Burch, respectively, Brené was still nowhere in sight. As organizers smiled and said that she was being fitted for her mic, there was a chair at the numero uno table going empty.
DCAC President/CEO Lynn Davis got things rolling by telling the crowd that despite the recent deaths of Leiliana Wright and Gabe Flores and criticism of the Children’s Protection Services department, it was important to remember, “We are all in this together.”
Joining Lynn on stage were Luncheon Co-Chairs Paula Richmond and Megan Steinbach, who said that if everyone at the event donated $100, then each table would provide therapy for a child. They asked that people fill the envelopes at their tables and hold them up to be collected. As the music played, hands raised with envelopes.
Then NBC5 anchor/reporter/emcee Katy Blakey introduced Brené, whose 2010 Tedx Houston Talk went crazy viral. In preparing for the Talk, she’d told her husband, Steve, that she was going to try an experiment at the Talk. She decided to be vulnerable and talk about “The Power of Vulnerability.” She revealed how one variable that both men and women share is to be vulnerable. Brené didn’t realize her Talk was being taped. But when TED curator Chris Anderson called to say they wanted to post it online, she thought perhaps a handful of friends and associates would see it. However, the Talk was so successful that it scored more than 24M views. It was then that Steve and her therapist recommended that she not read the comments online. She read all of them.
As a result, she decided “the only people who don’t experience shame are those who have no capacity for empathy and compassion.” Brené went on to say that she had “engineered her life to be small.” In other words, she had always wanted to stay under the radar, and now she was out there being vulnerable to commenters writing “Less research, more Botox;” “She should shed ten pounds before she talks about worthiness;” “So sorry for her husband and kids;” “It’s people like that that are ruining America;” etc.
In those comments were “everything I head feared all my life…As a trained social worker, I knew how to handle this — peanut butter and eight hours of ‘Downton Abbey’.” At the conclusion of her ‘Downton’ viewing, she got caught up with the era and Googled Theodore Roosevelt, who had been the U.S. president at the time. One of the first items to appear was Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena,” from his “Citizenship in a Republic” speech that he gave in 1910 at the Sorbonne.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
That inspired her to
- be in the arena. She was making a choice between courage and comfort “because you can’t choose both. There is nothing comfortable about courage.”
- realize that “vulnerability is not weakness. Vulnerability is actually our most accurate measure of courage — to have the willingness to show up when you cannot control the outcome.”
- not accept all feedback. “If you’re not in the arena getting your ass kicked on occasion, then I’m not open or interested in your feedback. The personal attacks, the name calling…There are a million cheap seats in the world today filled with people who will never enter the arena and take a chance with their thoughts. They will spend their entire lives hanging back and hurling judgment and criticism. And if you’re taking it and if you’re open to it, it will get in the way with your being brave and your life.”
She then gave an assignment to the audience — “Take a one-inch by one-inch piece of paper and write down the names of the people who really matter. There are the people whose opinions matter…I have seven. I had eight but one fell off…We need feedback. There is no mastery without it…But you’ve got to be careful whom we take it from.”
Brené then recalled the young man who told her how his parents had sent her TED talk to him and encouraged him to tell the girl he’d been dating that he loved her. When he did, the girl’s response was, “I think you’re awesome…and I think we should date other people.” On the way home, all the young man could think was, “Screw Brené Brown. Screw Brené Brown.” When he got back to his apartment and told his roommates what had happened, one roomie said, “Girls only like you when you’re running in the other direction. If you want them, you’ve got to run away.” The young man said he didn’t want to be that man. He wanted to be brave. His roommates burst out: “Right on!”
But that situation led to another question for Brené: How do you get up after a fall [in the arena of life]? She researched two years for the answers, with her results being “The Reckoning, The Rumble, The Revolution” that she described in her latest book, “Rising Strong.”
She told of how last year she had decided to write and launch a new book, start a company and train 1,000 people. That idea came to her in February with it all taking place by the fall. But by August everything was “falling apart.” She hadn’t slept soundly in weeks, her team was being pushed to the end and she was being overwhelmed. It all came to a head when Steve came home and opened the refrigerator. As she worked at her dining room table with papers and plans, she heard him say, “We don’t have lunch meat.” That comment was met with Brené suggesting he could go to the grocery. The conversation was not going well when she finally said that she knew everything was falling apart, that she was a terrible mother, etc., but she didn’t need him to “announce it so I know you know.”
This exchange resulted in her “story telling.” Brené was at that moment telling herself a story of failure. After calming down and talking it over, she sought his advice: Why had he said they had no lunch meat? Was he judging her? Steve’s answer: “I’m so hungry.”
The upshot was that our brains are wired for stories. If something difficult happens, our brains immediately search for a story to explain what’s happening. “If we give our brain a story, we are chemically rewarded for that story. The problem is that we have rewarded the story regardless of the accuracy of the story. The stories we make up and the one our brains love the most and give us the most reward for are stories of good guys, bad guys, safe people, unsafe people. The brain does not like uncertainty, ambiguity. My brain was saying, ‘Steve is a jerk. The last 30 years have been a lie’.”
Tying it back to DCAC’s work with children living in abusive and neglectful situations, Brené explained that the “greatest casualty of trauma is vulnerability. Because someone didn’t love us, we are unlovable.”
DCAC’s mission is to provide the services for traumatized children to heal and learn that they are loved and can embrace vulnerability.
* Photo credit: Kristina Bowman