Book Reviews

Who doesn’t love a good challenge?  So, does Brené Brown challenge us again in her recent book, Braving The Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone?  Brené Brown has written a number of books, including The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly.  She writes in a straight forward, easy to read style.  However, she tackles big topics that often require a good deal of consideration on the part of the reader.  Anyone who has read some of her books knows that her work will probably evoke many feelings in you, and not always the feel-good kinds of feelings.  She is a professor, researcher, and speaker.  You might remember her for her “brave” work related to shame.


The book jacket invites us to come to know “The four practices of true belonging”.  In the first chapter, Brené quotes Maya Angelou, “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”.  That our highest calling is to avoid throwing our own selves under the bus, so to speak.  We are responsible to love ourselves and represent ourselves truthfully and honestly – to ourselves first, then to others.


In the next chapter Brené talks about how she has come to understand the concept of belonging, through her research.  Learning how to trust ourselves and trust others is an important piece of coming to understand belonging.  She draws on “BRAVING” skills for relationships, developed out of her research.  She took her data and made this definition, “True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness.  True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”


She then turns to talk about how important spiritual connection is for all of us humans.  How we are so tempted to define ourselves in terms of our differences, but how we have so much more in common when we consider our human needs.  She talks about the work of John Cacioppo and his studies of loneliness that lead to the conclusion that, “Our neural, hormonal, and genetic makeup support interdependence over independence”.  We are tempted to be afraid of each other, so we focus on our differences, and become lonely.


The first practice of true belonging is next – “People Are Hard to Hate Close Up.  Move In.  She teaches skills for tolerating closeness and how to make use of conflict to lead to a greater good.  The second practice – “Speak Truth to Bullshit.  Be Civil”.  This chapter is about avoiding labels, generalizations, attacking, and false dilemmas.  And it is about treating each other with respect, regardless what side of the argument we are on.  The third practice is “Hold Hands.  With Strangers.”  It is about finding opportunities for experiences of collective joy.  Music, celebrations, working for the common good are all possibilities for those moments.  She quoted a term by the French sociologist Émile Durkheim, “collective effervescence”.  That term evokes both a word picture and a feeling state and brings to life her concept.  Who doesn’t want to be a part of collective effervescence?  Finally, she describes the concepts of “Strong Back. Soft Front.  Wild Heart”.  Trusting ourselves, trusting that we can trust ourselves in relationship to others, and accepting their humanity.  Then being able to hold our own paradoxes – to feel strong and vulnerable at the same time.  To feel happy and scared at the same time.


If there is a downside to her material, it is that her material does take a bit of psychological sophistication, self-motivation, and self-direction to implement.  The organization and structure were slightly hard to follow, at times, due to the number and depth of concepts being presented.


I think she delivers the overarching message clearly, that learning to hang onto ourselves without excluding others is a dance.  We need ourselves and we need others.  Both are true and Brené does deliver on illuminating real-life ways to accomplish that.  While this type of material may seem like a no-brainer to some or superfluous to others, with current divorce rates, substance abuse rates, and violent acting out, I think her messages are apropos and necessary for us to stop and observe; for the sake of preservation of our humanity in our culture and society.  And, yes, I feel challenged and you will too!