I struggle with how to review and rate books like this.
In the first place, I feel like they aren’t for me. I typically don’t pick up “self help” or “personal development” books of my own volition; to wit, this was a monthly book club selection. That’s not to say that I am stubborn, that I refuse to get anything out of them, that I’m dismissive of their messages, or that I think they’re a waste of time — none of those are true. It’s more like that I am a pretty easy going person, and, fortunately, neurotypical to boot, so I don’t find myself wanting for much in the way of improved disposition and outlook. And when I do find myself “in a funk,” they’ve tended to have pretty concrete causes.
General “happiness” is not really what Daring Greatly is about, or seeks to improve. But it’s still not the kind of book I may have heard about and thought, “Huh, maybe I need to read this,” and it’s almost certainly not the kind of book I would have sought out. So I already feel like I’m coming into this with kind of a block, that I won’t really be able to fairly assess how meaningful it might be for someone who really wanted something out of it, and got it, immediately.
In the time since I read it, there has been material that I’ve been chewing on, and messages that I have internalized. But books like these need to be consistently and thoughtfully put into practice before they can truly be fairly reviewed. How will I know how effective Brown’s coaching toward wholeheartness is until I am sure it will take?
One thing I can say, purely from a pragmatic viewpoint, is that this is not the first full-length advice book I’ve read that suffered from feeling rather repetitive. The central, core tenet of Brown’s research and position seems to be that the people with the most fulfilling lives are the ones who live wholeheartedly, which essentially means that they experience the emotional freedom that comes from allowing themselves to be vulnerable. She says, “I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.” The greatest barrier to vulnerability, Brown posits, is shame, or the anticipation of shame. It is what makes us want to hold ourselves back from taking risks personally and professionally, what hinders honesty in relationships, and what dampens our joy.
If you think there is something to that idea, and you want to hear the professional say it in her own words, with data from her research to back it up, you should watch any of her very popular TED talks. If you want to experience that fifteen to twentyish minute TED talk, but for hours, approached from different angles, and with TONS of personal anecdata so that you cannot possibly miss the point, read this book (or listen to the audiobook, as I did.) Personally, I probably could have stuck with the TED talks, which are already so popular and resonate with people so well precisely because they are so profoundly concise.
I also do feel compelled to mention that I was itching throughout the whole section on the ways that men and women experience shame differently. It’s not that I disagree with her research, as it seems to be pretty conclusive on the matter. And I also understand that Brown does not specialize in gender studies, and to get too deep into theory on this would have been out of the scope of her book. But I thought the book handled delicately — too delicately — the fragility of the male ego, and that male shame seems to stem from being perceived as weak and, basically, feminine. Brown basically identifies this, and then gives it kind of equal treatment to the foundations of women’s shame, suggesting that the simplest solution to both genders’ experience of shame is for us to be cognizant of their roots and to just be nicer about poking those nerves. And maybe I’m just a ball-busting bitch, but I really don’t feel like coddling men if their shame stems from, basically, misogyny. You don’t like feeling like a woman? Uh, neither do we, dude. Put differently, I’m less concerned with reassuring men that their masculinity is intact than I am with dismantling the structures that place masculinity above femininity, and that associate positive, strong personality characteristics (like bravery, “breadwinning,” and assertiveness) entirely with the former.
I want to end on a positive, because overall, I agree with Brown, for whatever that’s worth. I especially liked what she said about our culture of scarcity, and how when we have to compete for what we’re meant to believe is too little love and success to be distributed among all of us, we end up less compassionate, creative, and, yes, vulnerable. I liked some of her tricks for reframing confrontations to be less adversarial, so as to minimize shame and move more quickly toward productive solutions. I liked that she didn’t try to make up new words and catchphrases or use New Age woo language to jazz up her concepts, and that she stuck to the data and kept her advice grounded. So, yes, I think there is something I can — and should! — learn from Brown, but I wonder if I could have just stuck to the TED talks.