Open Bar: To be vulnerable is to be human (column)
January 21, 2018
The biological impulse that charges through me anytime it snows more than 6 inches had me at the lift early enough to score first chair with a family of three. Clad in our helmets and goggles, it was not until we were on the lift and chatting that I realized I was with a clan with whom I shared a mutual friend.
Originally intending to have a solo, mind-clearing sojourn, I ended up ripping around the mountain with the dad, skiing choice shots and even lucking into a rope drop into some very deep, untouched snow. It was one of those great, unexpected days when you get to share joy with a previously unknown member of the tribe. As killer as the skiing was, it was actually the respites on the chairlift that had the biggest impact on me.
Whether it was our natural loquaciousness or the endorphins pumping, our conversations were immediately deep and personal, the kind of connection for which we all strive. Given the milieu, the banter could easily have been of one-upmanship, the braggadocio of two bro-brahs. But we are a bit older, a lot more secure, and it was his sharing of tales of midmountaineering panic attacks that resonated so forcefully. His comfort with vulnerability was inspiring, and it made me admire and respect him all the more.
We all pretend that we are stronger than we feel, than we are. While males are more prone to this dissonant behavior, it is a universal human condition. Outmoded notions of masculinity have come back to the fore in these ridiculous times, just as we were making some headway into a more emotive ethos.
This has unfortunate consequences for not only our political discourse, but for disputes more generally. Those who are able to admit their vulnerability are not prone to chastise others for their own mistakes, errors that we all make on occasion.
Being vulnerable links us together, allows us to see one another as people and not just bastions of bravado. Even if one side to a conflict clings to the illusion of their infallibility, that unreasonable position will not strike the trier of fact as particularly compelling. If one can admit that a minor mistake was made in one area, but that actions were prudent in all other realms, then that may very well be a winning strategy. But, sadly, a true expression of vulnerability is not rewarded by our legal system, which is still largely based on the fiction of human perfection.
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This column, going five years strong, has been one of the best ways for me to feel comfortable sharing parts of myself that I would previously have hidden. When I started writing it, I felt that I had to be more of a traditional lawyer, taking myself too seriously and operating under the assumption that any displayed weakness would destroy my career. Little by little, as I eked out more personal insights, I came to realize that those were the tidbits with which readers could relate. Consequently, it has been the opening to mutually affirming and fascinating dialogues with friends old and new.
Now, I have no problem telling you that I get psychotic butterflies every time I drop into a mountain bike downhill, that I am often terrified of speaking in public and that I still worry that people reading this column will find me frivolous and pedantic. I welcome you to share your vulnerabilities with me; I never judge.
T.J. Voboril is a partner at Alpenglow Law LLC, a local law firm, and the owner-mediator at Voice of Reason Dispute Resolution. For more information, contact Voboril at 970-306-6456 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit http://www.alpenglowlaw.com.