Book review: Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, by Brene Brown.
I almost didn’t read this because I was unimpressed by the TEDx video version of it, but parts of the book were pretty good (mainly chapters 3 and 4).
The book helped clarify my understanding of shame: how it differs from guilt, how it often constrains us without accomplishing anything useful, and how to reduce it.
She emphasizes that we can reduce shame by writing down or talking about shameful thoughts. She doesn’t give a strong explanation of what would cause that effect, but she prompted me to generate one: parts of my subconscious mind initially want to hide the shameful thoughts, and that causes them to fight the parts of my mind that want to generate interesting ideas. The act of communicating those ideas to the outside world convinces those censor-like parts of my mind to worry less about the ideas (because it’s too late? or because the social response is evidence that the censor was mistakenly worried? I don’t know).
I was a bit confused by her use of the phrase “scarcity culture”. I was initially tempted to imagine she wanted us to take a Panglossian view in which we ignore the resource constraints that keep us from eliminating poverty. But the context suggests she’s thinking more along the lines of “a culture of envy”. Or maybe a combination of perfectionism plus status seeking? Her related phrase “never enough” makes sense if I interpret it as “never impressive enough”.
I find it hard to distinguish those “bad” attitudes from the attitudes that seem important for me to strive for self-improvement.
She attempts to explain that distinction in a section on perfectionism. She compares perfectionism to healthy striving by noting that perfectionism focuses on what other people will think of us, whereas healthy striving is self-focused. Yet I’m pretty sure I’ve managed to hurt myself with perfectionism while focusing mostly on worries about how I’ll judge myself.
I suspect that healthy striving requires more focus on the benefits of success, and less attention to fear of failure, than is typical of perfectionism. The book hints at this, but doesn’t say it clearly when talking about perfectionism. Maybe she describes perfectionism better in her book The Gifts of Imperfection. Should I read that?
Her claim “When we stop caring about what people think, we lose our capacity for connection” feels important, and an area where I have trouble.
The book devotes too much attention to gender-stereotypical problems with shame. Those stereotypes are starting to look outdated. And it shouldn’t require two whole chapters to say that advice on how to have healthy interactions with people should also apply to relations at work, and to relations between parents and children.
The book was fairly easy to read, and parts of it are worth rereading.