Brene Brown describes in her wonderful TED talk the secret to whole-hearted living. She says people who are fully engaged with life allow themselves to be vulnerable, even though it is risky. Being willing to be vulnerable is the key to connecting with people and deepening our experience. The problem is, with vulnerability comes risk and danger. How do we know if we can trust another person, or for that matter, how can we know if we can trust that life itself will not deal us a wild card?
The balance comes back to the simultaneous creation of intimacy and autonomy. We can develop a capacity to be close to other people, care about them, and thereby become vulnerable while also holding onto our own individual perspective. In other words, we can come to know other people, and be known ourselves, without giving up our sovereignty over ourselves. That is, we need not agree or be like another person to be close to that person.
David Richo has written a number of books about relationships, and one of his assertions is this: It is not a question of whether we can trust another person; it is a conviction that we can trust ourselves. In other words, we can afford to be open to other people and their differences and human limitations because we can trust ourselves to decide what to pay attention to, what to spend time on, and who to share our lives with. And we can trust ourselves to recover from being hurt or disappointed.
People will be insensitive, unaware, unskillful, or downright mean. Of course we need to be willing to understand the other person and where his or her behavior or words come from. We may decide the relationship is too destructive to continue. The point is, we need not protectively close ourselves to relationships. When things go badly, we can handle it. It might be painful, and it might be deal breaking, but we will be thoughtful; we will be careful; and we will take care of ourselves.
This understanding of ourselves and our real capacity to take care of ourselves gives us the courage to be truly open to the world and curious about other people and their experiences. We gain confidence in our own competence as we come to know ourselves better and as we see ourselves master difficult situations. Of course we are discerning about which relationships we engage with, what choices we make about our lives, and what goals we pursue. At the same time, that discernment comes from reflective understanding, not from a fear of failing, being hurt, or making a mistake.