What is the new definition of strength? Rabbits Vs. Squirrels.
Perhaps the new, burgeoning socially-agreeable, definition of strength is related to vulnerability and emotional exposure—being able to show weakness or truth (1) willfully (2) with or without overt fear of public judgment and humiliation, and (3) through authentic self-talk that allows #1 and #2 to be mentally accessible specifically in the male space.
As I write this list, I feel a sense of irony, I must admit. Collectively, women tend to enjoy a layer of “ease of access” to vulnerable emotive expression—so much so that society predicts that all women possess the capacity to be sensitive. Maybe I can even say that women enjoy ease of access to sensitivity and men enjoy ease of access to anger.
Many women in my network are vocal about the emotional inaccessibility in their partners. We can only wonder if it’s actual emotional inaccessibility they are experiencing or if their partner, in fact, fears being seen as emotional and chooses to repress and not address.
Vulnerability among men, specifically among men to other men, and especially among minority men to minority men, feels like a new territory—a new social moment and yes—a new opportunity to revisit and substantiate the definition of strength.
In order to hone in on the thread of “vulnerable strength” I’m referring to, I want to use an example of war and competition—two sides with opposing objectives that have decided that it’s best to annihilate each other.
Side 1 is called The Rabbits. Side 2, the Squirrels.
The Rabbits look across the field over to a group of exposed Squirrels. No Squirrels are hiding or concerned about the imminent war. The Squirrels are open to attack and veritably destroyable. he Rabbits feel so confident in their ability to defeat the exposed Squirrels that they call them idiots and amateurs and begin to celebrate their imminent defeat.
One rabbit begins to laugh in hysteria, “why aren’t they hiding? We’re the enemy.” The rabbits fantasize about their blood, their corpses and overthrowing their kingdom. They cheer and toast as they approach the Squirrels.
The Rabbits look across the field. The Squirrels appear open to attack and veritably destroyable. But now, the Rabbits are concerned. One Rabbit asks, “why aren’t they running? They must have something. What do they have?” The Rabbits become anxious from not being able to interpret the vulnerability of The Squirrels. The Squirrels stand peacefully, without swords, naked and exposed.
The Rabbits pace back and forth for days, contemplating about how and when the Squirrels will attack them, losing focus on their mission. One Rabbit decides to confront one of the Squirrels. The Rabbit asks the Squirrel, “why are you standing here? I don’t understand. Aren’t you afraid we will kill you?” “Run and hide!”
The Squirrel admits, “We are terrified. We can barely breathe.”
The Rabbit responds, “So why are you exposing yourself? You aren’t hiding behind our hills and in our forests!?”
The Squirrel slyly smiles, “why would we do that? There is no trick, All we have is what we are willing to show.”
The Rabbit paces in confusion, “Mr. Rabbit, you came all the way over here to have a conversation, so maybe peace is possible. We can learn more about each other.”
It was Sun Tzu who wrote, “Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.”
Scenario #2 is the new strength. Not only is it smart, but it evokes a curious response in bystanders. By the Squirrels standing in the center of their field, unarmored and naked, they display vulnerability and yet their opponent interprets strength. This display of vulnerability does not absolve their actual fear nor does it mute the hesitation in their minds, but this interpreted power is “the new strength.”
The new strength is the willful display of vulnerability, which in reality can only come from an informed place. We can use this type of strength to engage and to progress. Among men, we can use this type of strength to take a chance to explore if peace is possible in battle—yes, but in interpersonal relationships, and most importantly in our self-talk, where it matters most.