Redefining strength and weakness

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Last week I wrote, in part, about men and emotion. I also questioned the common misconception that masking our emotions is strength and showing (or even admitting) our emotions is weakness. I asked that we redefine our use of the words strong and weak with regards to describing emotion. There is no doubt in my mind that showing emotion is strength and showing our vulnerability is strength. This week I watched Vice President Joe Biden on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. He spoke about the death of his son, Beau. Even as I type those words, “the death of his son”, my heart hurts and I weep for him. No one, and I mean no one, has many fears greater than to imagine experiencing the loss their child, and yet many have. The Vice President spoke of his son Beau; he spoke of his love and admiration for him. I think that anyone who watched this interview felt his vulnerability. He shared his grief with all of us. He showed his sadness, his broken heartedness, his loss, his longing for his son, and he shared his memories with both joy and sadness. I think that no one can call any of what he shared anything other than a show of strength. Please do not let your political beliefs impact your view, this is not what is important here. What is important is that a man, a devoted and loving father, shared his vulnerability and the depth of his emotion, publicly. This took every ounce of strength that he had in him, and I’m sure by the end of the interview, he was completely exhausted. Because when we share our emotions, it is draining. He may have felt weakened, but that does not mean that he was weak.

I was struck by how many times he used the word “empathy”. He described his son as empathetic. He shared with us that Beau made him promise that he would be okay. He said about his son “This is a kid, I don’t know what it was about him, but he had this enormous sense of empathy”. It was clear to me that his son learned to be empathetic from his father because VP Biden’s next sentence was “First of all, it is a little bit embarrassing to speak about me because there are so many people who have had losses (maybe even in the audience) as severe or worse and don’t have the support that I have”. This was a statement of empathy (shared even when he was feeling the depth of his pain) for everyone else who has suffered and lack support in their suffering. It is only when we allow ourselves to feel our pain (pain is something that no one escapes) that we can then feel the pain of another, which is empathy.

Obviously, Vice President Biden experienced pain and suffering of the worst kind many years ago with the loss of his wife and daughter. I have no idea if this was when he truly experienced the ability to be incredibly empathetic, but it is clear that he knows pain, vulnerability, and empathy and then shares his pain with emotional strength.

It may be frightening or uncomfortable to watch the depth of VP Biden’s pain because no one wants to endure the pain that he is experiencing, or be reminded of our own pain. But when someone is willing to share their pain and vulnerability, there is only one thing to do and that is to honor, admire, and work toward being as strong as the Vice President.

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Photo Credit: Giacomo Carena

Redefining strength and weakness
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Redefining strength and weakness
There is no doubt in my mind that showing emotion is strength and showing our vulnerability is strength. We are redefining strength and weakness.

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