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Strength Needs Flexibility

Updated: Aug 1, 2022

As I walked around downtown Austin this week, I began to think about the construction of all the new skyscrapers. It occurred to me that these buildings have some similarities to people. In the last few years, I’ve learned about skyscraper construction and how these super-tall buildings MUST flex to stay upright. Designers even build models of their buildings alongside the surrounding buildings to determine the effects of wind from various directions. If a building were built to be super rigid, then it would also be brittle—and that’s not good. So, designing flexibility into these giants gives them more strength. Some of the tall buildings even have huge water tanks on their roofs. The tanks can supply the building’s fire suppressions system, but they also act as a huge damper, stabilizing the building and reducing the sway that can cause people to get seasick! But I digress…

We see this same need for flexibility in people as well. Rigid attitudes and views don’t make for fun conversation or good business negotiations. We see this in politics, too. Give a little to get what you want. It’s simple to understand, but it’s not always easy to do. Sometimes, we have a different name for flexibility; we call it vulnerability. And vulnerability, in the right context, is very powerful. It takes time and trust to show vulnerability, whether at work, school, or at home. But the reward is worth it. Vulnerability results in deeper, more meaningful relationships.

So, how do we learn to be more flexible, more vulnerable? Is there a course on vulnerability? I certainly never saw it taught in school. In fact, I learned this skill from Discovery Programs in Austin, Texas. Discovery is a program that guides you to think in healthier ways, using a process based around answering straightforward questions. And it all begins with the program creating a safe space, where you can learn to truly trust the people around you. It’s remarkable how this trust—and the vulnerability that comes with it—develops so quickly. In fact, you can begin to master it over the course of a single weekend, as you are guided through the process by volunteers who are welcoming and exceptionally respectful.

During my first encounter with Discovery, I learned about vulnerability within a context that I’d never heard it before. You see, I spent almost 20 years in the U.S. Army Reserves, where vulnerability was never spoken of as a strength, at least not in any aspect that I can remember. Vulnerability was associated with weakness. It had to be addressed, or soldiers would die. Indeed, I think military forces get this right. But, you can see why my head spun a little when I heard vulnerability spoken of as a strength.

Well, I’m now convinced that it is a strength. I’ve seen hundreds of lives changed through this simple concept. Today, my relationship with my family and friends, as well as the folks I work with, are far richer than they were before I went through the journey of Discovery.

So, next time you see an example of something you find surprisingly strong, consider whether flexibility or vulnerability is an important element of its strength.

- Bryan Smith

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