A little while ago I appeared on a podcast with Garry Turner. As part of our discussion, he asked me a question :
What does vulnerability mean to you?
Truth be told, my answer wasn’t as strong as I’d hoped. I talked about the antithesis of pretending to be bulletproof, the importance of relying on a team, and about how leadership is as much asking for help/advice as it is helping to support others.
And then I read this bit of Twitter poetry from Phil Willcox.
Phil’s words prompted me to revisit my answer to Garry’s question, because on reflection, vulnerability is much simpler to explain.
In order to get there, I need to share something I recently learned about African tribes.
In Zulu tribes, there is a recognised greeting: ‘Sawubona’ which translates as ‘I see you’. Of course, it means far more than the literal ‘I see you stood there in front of me.’ Its use has a long history, that at once conveys a great deal:
I see all of you, I see your hopes, successes, failures, past, present and future. I see your personality, I see your dignity and respect. You are important to me and I value you. All my attention is with you. I accept you for what you are and you are part of me.
One way to respond to this greeting is to answer ‘Ngikhona’. It translates to ‘I am here’, but again, there’s a complex richness behind the phrase. It tells the other person that you stand before them, letting yourself be seen, together with all your own needs, dreams, joy, sadness, fear and respect. You feel you have been seen, and that everything about you has been recognised, understood and accepted.
In the Zulu culture, this exchange is an extremely powerful representation of understanding. The Zulu assume that a person is only a person because of other people - that to exist, you have to first be seen by others. And tribe members celebrate this beautiful idea at every encounter.
So there we have it Garry- please accept my revised answer.
What does vulnerability mean to me? Vulnerability is about allowing ourselves to be truly seen. And when someone else demonstrates their vulnerability, letting them know that you’re right there, seeing them as they wish to be seen.
Because deep down, isn’t that what all of us really want from one another?