When Brené Brown took the Family Action Network stage on September 27, audience members pointed their smart phone flashlights at The New York Times best-selling author and TED Talk superstar.
As it turns out in addition to sharing her ideas on vulnerability, courage, shame and empathy, which have attracted millions of fans, Brown is also a huge Harry Potter fan. Those smart phones were wands up. Brown simply paused silently on the stage and the packed auditorium burst into applause.
No doubt Brown knows how to charm an audience. She was on tour promoting her latest book, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, marking the third time Brown has spoken on the North Shore for the Family Action Network (FAN). The auditorium was packed, mostly with women, and the free, reservation-only event sold-out within an hour on the FAN website.
Brown’s opening remarks were in keeping with the folksy style she is famous for, peppered with swear words and anecdotes about her personal life.
She recalled the time she met her hero Maya Angelou on Oprah Winfrey’s set, and the love-hate relationship she has with Angelou’s quote: “You are only free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.”
Initially Brown hated the quote, convinced that she never belonged anywhere — was always on the outside. But over time Brown came to realize that true belonging is the willingness to stand alone and be your own person. That idea is integral to her fourth book, Braving the Wilderness.
Brown shared two trends she has discovered in social research:
- as a society we’ve never been more sorted, i.e. living in separate ideological bunkers
- people have never felt lonelier than now
She says these echo chambers are built around hating the same people, but in reality, people can’t make connections with each other around hating others.
Ultimately Brown’s core philosophy is really about humanity. People connecting with other people, across any differences they may have politically, or in any other way. As an example, she shared her experience during Hurricane Harvey, where she observed neighbors helping neighbors to safety. Nobody asked anyone else about politics before lending a helping hand, she said.
And her practices of truly belonging are tied into this same central theme:
People are hard to hate close up, so move in. Dehumanizing other people is a way to disconnect and hurt others without feeling the pain. Speak truth … be civil. Hold hands with strangers.
While Brown’s presentation was full of jargon and catchy phrases, she fundamentally seems to be on a quest to change people’s outlook in a society that appears divided over questions of bathrooms or school choice, but is still able to unite and connect during natural catastrophes.