Teaching Creativity: Understanding Vulnerability

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” –Brené Brown, TED Talk “Listening to shame” March 2012

 

In a TED talk I watched recently, Brené Brown talks about life being a compilation of individuals seeking connection. The whole point of life, she says, is to make meaningful connections with people, and we strive to do that through learning, experience, relationships, etc. Sounds an awful lot like the aim of a Humanities education. Additionally, I thought about another of Brown’s talks gave on vulnerability and related it to some of the choices I have made teaching my WRTG 150 class this semester.

 

Brown says that creativity and innovation come from vulnerability. Seeing as I have been trying to help my students come up with ideas for their papers, I thought this was especially pertinent. She says the people she studied who seemed to be the most creative and have the most meaningful lives are the ones who allow themselves to live “whole-heartedly,” which linguistically has the same root as “courage.” These people don’t have anything to hide. They allow themselves to enjoy life having accepted that they aren’t perfect and embrace and learn from their mistakes. Brown says it takes embracing vulnerability to live purposefully and whole-heartedly, a product of which is increased creativity.

 

To foster creativity and innovation in my classroom, I have my students write journal entries to spark ideas from personal experiences. Some of the very best and most engaging entries have been those where my students open up and allow themselves to be vulnerable in their writing—not just in the stories they tell, but in their techniques, their styles, and as they experiment with language.

 

I figured if I ask them to be vulnerable with me in their writing, maybe it would be beneficial to be vulnerable to them in my own writing. So I decided to share my writing process with my students and get their feedback. I have had lessons where I put my own writing on the board (in various stages of the writing process) and ask my students to critique my papers. I put myself in a place of vulnerability for my students in hopes that they can see the liberalities of the writing process, which fosters creativity.

 

My students have responded favorably to these exercises. At first they seemed surprised that I was asking them to help me fix my introductory paragraph or whatever, and many of them were hesitant to offer any suggestions at first, but as we got into it a little more, they warmed up and gave me some really great feedback. They seem to better grasp the purpose of drafting, of allowing words and ideas to make their way on the page and not too care about the form or mechanics quite so much. They see that “good writing” doesn’t have to look pretty, and quite frankly it doesn’t at first. Ideas are primary. The other things are to be revised further along in the process. My willingness to be vulnerable has helped some of my students be vulnerable with me about their writing process, and it has prompted experimentation as they go about writing their drafts, etc.

 

Sometimes our audience and the genre of writing can make us vulnerable. I feel vulnerable writing these blog posts, knowing my writing is going out into a space where I can no longer control the outcomes. Brown says, however, that is the key to living whole-heartedly—relinquishing control and accepting imperfectability. The lessons I have learned in the Humanities has taught me to break down the walls of my paradigms and have made me vulnerable in ways that have allowed me to live more whole-heartedly.

 

Vulnerability seems like a weakness in the collective consciousness. We don’t want to release control or seem less than put together to our peers, coworkers, subordinates, etc., but in being so caught up in others’ perceptions of us, we relinquish the very power that fosters creativity.

This post was written by Holly Boud, HC intern

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