4 min read

Vulnerability as a practice, as resistance

Vulnerability is our superpower against an oppressive system that encourages us to individualize our pain and thus, our responses, about the state of the planet. Vulnerability is what grounds us, what sustains us, what frees us.
Vulnerability as a practice, as resistance
Tacloban, 2015 — A group of men play a game of basketball in one of Tacloban's post-Haiyan resettlement areas (Photo by Beatrice Tulagan)

My first love, like a lot of people’s, has long exited my life. Or maybe I exited his, I couldn’t really remember. My brain has thankfully decided to spare me from holding on to details.

Every now and then, though, I think about our final interaction. It was about four years ago. I woke up to a message request from this boy that I haven’t spoken to in a long time but talked to practically every waking hour in high school. It was the strangest encounter: his partner, whose kid from another relationship he fathered with no hesitations, just upped and left them that morning. He was at a loss, did not know what to make of it, and for some reason thought picking up his phone, looking me up after six years of not speaking and asking me what to do was a fantastic idea.

We talked for a bit, and that was that. I never found out if she came back, nor have I checked in on him and his son after. It was a genuine moment of sheer vulnerability, which I appreciate to this day, and I went on with my life wishing him well.

I often think of the various ways we all stay imprinted on each other, and how vulnerable we allow ourselves to be with those we hold, or held, dear. These days, I feel I only show up well when I shed off the posturing — of knowing things, or of holding everything together perfectly at all times — and connect with people as my full self, with my hopes and fears out in the open.

I plead guilty to oversharing as a practice. I don’t need much prodding to talk about how the political inevitably bleeds into my personal life, and how human beings holding space for both fears and hopes represents the very best of us, thus this newsletter’s name.

For me, oversharing is both catharsis and a continuous jab at more meaningful connections. In a world that’s quite literally going up in flames, I’ve found consciousness about respectability and a well-crafted image pointless, and, if anything, rooted in a capitalist agenda of promoting individualistic value and self-worth to derail us from collectively sharing our humanity and imagining a better future.

For the longest time and for good reason, the movement used the term vulnerability to refer to how exposed communities are to climate hazards, and we’ve grounded our calls for climate justice in the very unfortunate fact that those who are most vulnerable to climate impacts are those who are least responsible for it, such as already marginalized communities of color in the Global South. The Philippines, where I was born and raised, for example, is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change.

I think a lot about the other definition of vulnerability — the ability to express the full range of our deepest emotions without shame — in the context of climate organizing. The latest IPCC report’s release, for example, caused a stir up in the climate community: on the one hand you had doomsday headlines causing fear, on the other you had activists telling people to anchor their hope on solutions. While all of this is valid, I wondered about the need for complex narratives about the full spectrum of feelings - not just anxiety or grief or hopefulness - that social and environmental crises of this scale cause, and what we could do better as movements to support both our people and the general public at this time.

I don’t have all the answers — I never do, I never will — but I’ve been exploring leaning into my personal, and inevitably political, vulnerability. Vulnerability is our superpower against an oppressive system that encourages us to individualize our pain and thus, our responses, about the state of the planet. I often wrestle with my guilt over how a lot of activists that I work with, especially in Asia and in my country, don’t even have the luxury of waxing poetic like me about how they feel about injustices because they wake up everyday to sometimes literal battlefields of corruption and violence. But to refuse to confront and speak on my personal challenges altogether is to do myself and the communal painstaking work ahead a disservice, completely missing the point. Fighting for climate justice and justice on all fronts is rooted in sustaining our communities and strengthening the relational ties across movements that bind us to one another, and that in itself presupposes honoring the various selves and emotions that we hold.

Vulnerability is what grounds us, what sustains us, what frees us. The task of preventing every further degree of global warming does not have a historical precedent, and partly because of that it is also undoubtedly the most history-altering task of our lives. Of course we won’t have a blueprint with which to go with, and of course given the scale of the issue we will feel often overwhelmed. Perhaps these are the very reasons why we need to show ourselves even more kindness and grace as we figure out our role in building a better world for all.

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