Greater Than or Equal To

As I bent over to tie my shoes, I puzzled that the tongue’s logo resembled a ≥. Not knowing whether KEEN was intentional in their design or whether it was my subconscious connecting the coming day’s activities to my thoughts on this blog, I began questioning myself. Was I greater than or equal to the task at hand? Could I bag this peak? How many more obstacles would I traverse? Cheering myself onward, I said to myself, “I must be ≥ the challenge, the purpose, the destination!” Then, the connection!

This past month, I had the pleasure of training educators, keepers, and volunteer coordinators at the Birmingham Zoo. As we discussed moving beyond inherent meaning and ascribing emotion, I revealed a personal, intimate story. Participants passed around an empty Welch’s grape juice bottle and described its meaning. Then, I told the story of Princess Grape Juice. At the conclusion, there was not a dry eye. Sniffles broke the silence. Naturally, many felt uncomfortable. Finally, someone spoke up. She questioned my use of personal story, emotion, and vulnerability in a professional setting touting that her previous career would not welcome such feeling in the work place.

My point had been made: emotional connections cultivated relationships not only between the audience and the resource (in this case, the training curriculum), but also between ourselves. So, I didn’t stop there! I snagged the opportunity to move beyond this training threshold, harnessing the connective power of the participant’s very word- vulnerability.

I think of vulnerability as emotional yin and yang. Defined as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure”, it typically has a negative connotation; however, social scientist Brené Brown illustrates from over a decade of research that it is at the core of connection. For interpreters, our goal is creating emotional and intellectual connections. Brown, however, moves beyond our own field purporting that connection is the purpose for our very being.

“Connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering” (p.8, 2012). In her book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brown writes that vulnerability is “the cradle of the emotions and experiences that we crave. Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity” (p. 34, 2012). And, because vulnerability is the foundation of feeling, when we dismiss it as weakness, we are confusing “feeling with failing and emotions with liabilities” (p. 35). Furthermore, if we want to fire hearts and minds both as interpreters and as interpretive trainers, “we have to learn how to own and engage with our vulnerability and how to feel the emotions that come with it” (p. 35). We must not shun emotion in the workplace, especially in a profession that champions connecting with heart, mind, and body!

Ultimately, our personal and professional peaks and valleys will continue; however, I challenge you to do as I did- double-knot your laces! Use personal story as an interpretive and professional development tool by allowing yourself to be vulnerable enough to share yourself in order “to teach or move a process forward” because it “can be healthy and effective” (p. 162, 2012).

And, as I sit unlaced, I am reminded of what Ginni Rometty (2011) said prior to being named IBM’s CEO- “growth and comfort do not coexist.” Only if we dare to be > the challenge, whatever its form, are we able to grow beyond ourselves and approach our summit of self-actualization!

Oh, and if you are interested in Brene Brown’s work, check out her TEDtalk that has received more than five million hits and that has been translated into thirty-eight languages (p. 14, 2012); or check out another of her books such as The Gifts of Imperfection or I Thought It Was Just Me. Better yet, make it a twofer! I read Daring Greatly at the same time as I read this month’s NAI Book Club selection, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when Stakes are High. Collectively, they make for dynamite reading!

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