For a month and a half I asked the men in my life to be vulnerable, to expose themselves in a way that felt foreign. I asked them, masculine pillars in modern society, to paint one nail and wear it boldly. I challenged them to no easy feat: to be open and willing to start a conversation with strangers about a taboo topic, one that might be uncomfortable and far-removed from their immediate reality. They were the participants of Polished Man, donating their hand and their voice to raise funds for the 1 in five children globally who experience physical or sexual violence before the age of 18, 90% at the hands of men.
I’ve meditated a lot on the idea that while vulnerability is just a word, its meaning is greatly subjective between individuals. While some are victimized by its toxicity, others can relish in its opportunity.
I've recently discovered vulnerability has the power to be one of life’s most rewarding delights, a beacon of light for when we allow ourselves to be completely uninhibited. Our vulnerability comes packaged tight with many layers and exposes a new sense of self as the outer edges peel off. It is a human trait that requires being and staying open, to the known and unknown; to make decisions even when we are unsure; to question ourselves and our intuition; to be deeply curious and follow that curiosity even when it leads down a zigzag path. That is what vulnerability is for me. It is a luxury.
But outside of my own experiences, there are thousands of people engulfed by their vulnerability — a forced, grave, dark entrapment. Many of those people are children: Lanh, a 15-year-old from Vietnam, who has suffered her entire life as a victim to domestic human rights abuse, enduring physical violence for as long as she can remember, living in different places after she was neglected and abandoned by her mother; Thea, an eleven-year old from Cambodia, who was horrifically and sexually abused by a family member during the most innocent years of her life; Huyen, a young woman captured and sold to smugglers in China as a human trafficker, of which she spent two years of her life before she was rescued and returned.
These are the truest victims of vulnerability, their identities imbued with brokenness. Their stolen purity, among everything else taken from them, among some of the most severe instances of human rights abuse. Their notion of vulnerability, in every sense, dehumanizing and frightening.
This polarity of vulnerability is an interesting one, how deeply it can shift with our own experiences and the knowledge of the experiences of others. How even multiple definitions are not enough to suffice for the spectrum of emotions it might conjure for one person to the next, from one male who wants to play a part in helping to end violence against children, to the youngest child, victimized and waiting for a savior.
As a part of Polished Man, participants were brave enough to strip back their own layers to raise awareness and make themselves susceptible in their own right. That in and of itself is a reason to celebrate vulnerability. I’ve found that when we begin to shift the context, such as how our own good fortune can also be used as a vehicle for good, we can inject a little beacon of light in the darkest of places, and then possibly change someone’s life in the process.
Simone Spilka is the US Partnerships Manager of Polished Man, an innovative fundraising campaign to help end violence against children. Polished Man is an initiative from YGAP, an organization of impact entrepreneurs that have significantly and measurably improved the lives of 102,444 living in poverty across East Africa, South Africa and the Pacific. By day, she is an Editor for PSFK.
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