The idea of being vulnerable to many signifies a weakness. Vulnerability usually refers to a person of questionable emotional stability, or a people group or empire being susceptible to an invasion of their homeland. This definition is what is commonly adopted in a culture that emphasizes total self-sufficiency as a virtue, yet in the past an enlightened ancient culture held vulnerability as a virtue. To be vulnerable is a virtue when it is balanced by wisdom, and when vulnerability lacks this companion it is susceptible to falling into two different extremes which should be avoided.
To begin, it is important to first have a good understanding of the extremities to be wary of before delving into what vulnerability should look like. The first extreme that people are likely to practice involves creating a fortress of themselves. When someone has been hurt they will endeavor to make themselves impenetrable in order to not feel that pain again. But in hardening themselves to feel those things they also numb the good emotions, such as love. They become apathetic and indifferent as a whole. One of the most esteemed Christian philosophers of the twentieth century, C. S Lewis, captures the essence of the hardening heart in a facetious manner. He first says that in loving anything at all, you are sure to be hurt, therefore in order to keep your heart intact you must lock it away in a “coffin of your selfishness”, then in that dark casket “it will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable”. He also claims that “to love at all is to be vulnerable” and nowhere on this Earth does love not involve the risk of being hurt (Lewis 111). This only exists in Heaven and Hell. In trying to avoid getting hurt, this causes the deepest hurt. It forms isolation, bitterness, and as previously mentioned, apathy. This idea is also embodied in someone who is self-sufficient. Our culture heavily emphasizes the hero who saves the day all on his own. For example, Batman’s key phrase when offered help is “I work alone.” Audiences love that aspect of the masked vigilante and his self-sufficiency inspires them to go and do the same. What person when given the chance would pass up the opportunity to be Batman? This is seen in the work force where many people will do whatever it takes to get to the top, with little care for who they hurt on the way. It is every man for himself, and the idea of teamwork though discussed is often not truly applied in an authentic way because selfish motives often reside under the surface.
The second extreme that many people have the tendency to fall into is being vulnerable or penetrable with no counsel. This is someone who uses no wisdom when they speak. They are an open book for all who want to hear and can lack social tact, are blunt, rude, or even gossips. Even more often they can be seen as foolish. None of their stories are sacred because no one has to earn the right to hear them. The value of their experiences are diminished when they are not guarded and shared with discernment. Proverbs 17:28 says, “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent,” (English Standard Version). Not everyone will appreciate the depth and hardships or even the glories of a person’s experience. Upon recognizing the listener’s lack of understanding or appreciation of their vulnerability in sharing their experience the speaker will often feel shame, discouragement, and then they will also begin to cherish less the sacredness of their own story. This will then possibly lead to a loss in identity, because they have lost all meaning in the stories that had once given them definition and direction in who they are.
Vulnerability is a virtue when it is balanced with wisdom, for wisdom is the counsel or discernment that leads the mouth of one who practices such openness. In the scriptures, wisdom is often to referred to very reverently as a friend that one would do well to come by. This is illuminated by Proverbs 3:13 when the author proclaims that “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding.” King Solomon of Israel saw the value in having wisdom as a companion and asked God to give him wisdom in order to govern his kingdom instead of asking for riches or power. In Proverbs 4:6, it is told “Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you.” This is a wisdom that cannot be gained through any persons own work or study. This wisdom is supernatural and is an understanding that can only be granted by God Himself. In the book of Job, the man Job asks “where shall wisdom be found?” for “the price of wisdom is above pearls,” (Job 28:12,18). The answer he comes to is that only “God understands the way to it, and he knows its place,” (Job 28:23). If any man asks for wisdom from God, God will grant it to him (James 1:5). When a man is guided by his wisdom he will not fall into folly, but will walk with understanding, speaking with authority and discretion.
Historically, an example can be found among the Greeks as a people who held vulnerability as a virtue. This is not a claim that most scholars would be accustomed to hearing due to scholar’s tendency to focus more on other parts of Greek writing. A tertiary source, Hakan Tell wrote an insightful review highlighting a work by Dr. Marina McCoy about vulnerability being held as a virtue in Ancient Greek literature and philosophy. McCoy asserts that today’s scholars have put a heavy emphasis on the self-sufficiency and heroism of the Greeks, and have done so “at the expense of a more nuanced consideration of vulnerability,” before going on to claim that within Greek culture there is a “deeper sensibility for the centrality of vulnerability for the virtuous life” when applied individually and within the community (Hakan). Keeping with Greek thought, in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, the philosopher often points to vulnerability as the key to a good, virtuous friendship he has. Even after that friend turns bad, Aristotle still asserts that friendship is the greatest happiness and intimacy within a person’s life, and that those things rest upon a person’s ability to be vulnerable.
Being vulnerable also must involve courage and humility, for these virtues combined create the virtue of vulnerability. In the Bible, the story of Esther is a prime illustration of this idea in application. Esther, though a Jew, became the Queen to the Babylonian King. She kept her true identity hidden, as her race was not liked among the Babylonians. It was then that a time of desperation fell upon the Jews, and Esther had been put in the right location by God as Queen to be able to say something. Yet, despite her position she was not allowed to approach the King unless summoned. Still, because she loved God and loved her people, she approached the King. She broke the laws of the culture to do what God called her to do. She was courageous, for it took courage for her to say “I am a Jew and these are my people.” She was vulnerable, knowing full well that she could be killed for it. Even further, after already being courageous through vulnerability, she also had to humble herself before the very man that wanted to kill the Jews, Haman. She was trying to reveal to the King that Haman was the person who wanted to kill the Jews. She was open about who she was, what she wanted, and she did so humbly, and she was willing to sacrifice her own life for those she loved. She made herself susceptible to attack, to death, but in doing so she received the greatest reward. With God’s help, she had favor with the King, and she revealed Haman’s plans, and saved her people. Esther’s story is a typology to the story of Jesus Christ who also sacrificed Himself for the sake of others. He laid down his life when he could have very easily spared it, yet he suffered for the world’s sake. He is the ultimate example of being vulnerable through his practice of love, humility, and wisdom that is perfectly intertwined.
Vulnerability is not as most would normally perceive it to be, for when it is applied with wisdom it can lead to the deepest love. For when courage is used in a person’s most vulnerable moment, the weary sojourner will push through suffering to find a new understanding that would not have been discovered otherwise. Leading a life of guided vulnerability will ultimately bring about freedom from bitterness and brokenness despite the precautions put in place. Despite vulnerability’s long held negative connotation, it is a virtue that when dealt with wisely can lead to true happiness and a deeper understanding of life itself.