Book: Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
Richard James Havis
by Brene Brown
A research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, Brene Brown has spent a decade studying shame, and this book explains why she believes that particular emotion underpins many of the social problems experienced by modern urban society. Her purpose is to steer readers away from being defined by their shame by encouraging them to "dare greatly" - to live authentically by allowing others to see their true vulnerability.
Brown is a social scientist, and her book draws on her studies, which generally consist of interviews with subjects about their feelings of shame. She supplements this with her own experiences. Although the science is present, it tends to get buried in a lively and emotional magazine style of authorship. This makes the book easy to read, but it also diminishes some of its impact. The book carries on from her earlier I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't), which also trumpeted the power of vulnerability.
Shame, unlike guilt, is not an emotion that is generally discussed in everyday conversation. So what is it, and why does Brown think it is so important? "Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed, and therefore unworthy of love and belonging." It's different from guilt, with which it is sometimes confused: "The difference between shame and guilt is the difference between "I did something bad (guilt)" and "I am bad (shame)". It's a feeling of unworthiness, a feeling that we are not quite good enough at all the things we do, she says.
This becomes a problem, writes Brown, because it limits what we do and stops us living authentically. Shame makes us scared to let people know how we really feel, and this stops us from connecting with others, which, in Brown's world-view, is what we are here to do.
The answer, she says, is to build a "resilience" to shame by allowing others to see our vulnerability - the "daring greatly" of the title. If we dare to show our vulnerabilities to the world, we will be able to connect with it, and it will be able to connect with us. Exactly why all this is so is not convincingly argued. Brown's analysis of what shame is, and how it is experienced, is interesting and useful. But it's not clear why we should deal with it in the way that she suggests, and why this will have benefits. Authentic living - being ourselves - is probably desirable, but the author needs to show some of the theoretical backup behind this assertion, as it is a work grounded in scientific analysis.
Likewise, the idea of connecting with others: it sounds like a good idea, but what's the science? Brown sidesteps the latter issue by talking about connection in quasi-religious terms, which is disappointing.
Daring Greatly needs more theory to underpin Brown's argument that we must combat shame by being vulnerable so that we can truly connect with people.