Brené Brown: All right. Hi, everyone. I’m Brené Brown. This is Unlocking Us, Part 2, Living BIG with Ashley, my sister.
Ashley Brown Ruiz: Hello!
BB: Hello! And also, our very last Unlocking Us podcast for Spotify. Let’s just jump into Living BIG and I’ll give you all the details about where you can find podcasts at the end, because I want to get onto this Part 2. Okay, y’all, we’re back. It’s me and Ash talking about, are people doing the best they can? Living BIG, boundaries, integrity, generosity. What boundaries need to be in place for me to be in my integrity and be generous towards you? You’ve got to listen to Part 1, don’t you think?
ABR: Yeah. Oh, yeah.
BB: All right. So, you know, it’s funny when I went to spend the day with Father Richard Rohr. This reminds me, I told a story about how I hated the Vineyard Parable. And Joe Reynolds, who was the Dean of the Cathedral here in Houston for a long time and really a great spiritual mentor to me, he used to call that parable the Un-American Parable. So, the parable, and this is going to, like, if you’re like, have an MDiv or you’re a clergy person, just take a deep breath. I’m going to give you the fast version of it.
BB: It’s basically a story of a guy who owns a vineyard needing to harvest all the grapes. Workers get there at 6 o’clock in the morning. They’re excited to be picked, kind of like day laborers, unless they get… they’re excited to be chosen because this guy pays a really fair wage. And he said, “The wage for the full day from six to six is…” you know, this. They’re like, “God, that’s great. That’s generous. Thank you.” They realized at noon, “Wow, we’re not going to get this…” They picked up some other workers. I’m sure they were men at the time. They work from noon to 6:00. At 3:00, they’re still like, “We’re going to need 10 more folks” or something. So, he gets some more. “This is what you’re going to get paid.” They work from three to six. At the end of the day, he lines up all the workers and pays them the same. And you’ve got to remember in the beginning, you know, it was $100 from six to six. They thought that was a really fair wage. But once they compared that, that the people that worked from three to six or noon to six got the same, they were like, “This is bullshit.”
BB: “You’re unfair.” But it was still a really good wage for those 12 hours. So, I think the whole thing about that, if I could see why Joe would call it the Un-American Parable, is it’s about grace. God’s grace is coming to you in full force, no matter how hard you work or how little you work. [chuckle] You know, like Richard Rohr says, “I’m trapped in a certain grace, and it pisses me off.” So, when, the first time I heard that parable, I was like, “This is total bullshit.” And here’s what I hope. I hope if you got there at 3 o’clock and you got paid $100 when you actually only were there like a third of the time I was there or whatever, I hope your cart breaks down on the way home and it costs exactly how much you got overpaid to fix it. But I feel the same way about grace. I feel the same way about, I don’t like grace when I don’t deserve it. But that’s what grace is. You can’t not do enough to earn love and grace, at least, in our faith tradition.
BB: Ours. Shout out for the Episcopalians. Woot woot. So, they’re like, “We don’t know them.” [laughter]
ABR: “I’m not claiming them.”
BB: Anyway, so I feel like part of this question of, “Are people doing the best they can?” is tough for me for that reason. Do you know what I mean? Like, work harder.
ABR: Yes. I think what I tend to come back to is what does that do for you if they work harder? You’re still doing the exact same thing. Your wages don’t change
BB: I’m less angry.
BB: And resentful.
ABR: What do you think is under the anger and resentment?
BB: I’m not doing this with you. [laughter]
ABR: I was like, “Damn, I feel like I said that earlier today.” [laughter]
BB: I want gold stars and extra credit.
ABR: Yeah, me too.
BB: This is going to go south so fast. Because I know that this is true, and I do try to practice Living BIG. Ashley knows it’s true. Ashley practices Living BIG. Ashley, I make up that you find joy in practicing Living BIG.
ABR: I don’t know if I find joy in it, but I’m definitely not as angry, which I think creates space for joy.
BB: Yeah, the God dang, that’s another good point. This is irritating. I mean, that is true. Do you ever do it reluctantly? I do it reluctantly sometimes. I’m like, I need to practice Living BIG, and I’m pissed off about it.
ABR: Yeah, totally.
ABR: Yeah, I do. And I think I just like the freedom that comes from being able to look at someone and say that they’re doing the best that they can outweighs the other things. And yes, that might take you into different work, but at least you know what work you’re getting into. If it’s grief, at least you know you’re going into grief. It’s so funny because on the Chris Germer podcast, how you repeat back his work to him and he’s like, “Oh, that’s beautiful, Brené.” And you’re like, “Well, it’s your work.”
ABR: I feel like I’m doing the same thing to you right now. Like, “Well, you said in a video that…”
ABR: Like it’s really about, what does it do for you? It’s about you, not them, right? So like, how does their cart breaking down impact you?
BB: Ha ha ha.
ABR: [laughter] But that’s not who you want to be?
BB: No, it’s not. It’s actually not who I am either. I think if I were that person, I wouldn’t be able to talk about it with you.
BB: Do you know what I mean? Like, I’m just telling you what’s going on underneath the hood.
BB: Is not pretty all the time.
BB: You know?
BB: It’s not it’s not pretty under your hood either.
BB: Yeah. Because I think when we call each other, how often do you think when we’re pissed off or angry about something, you, me, and Barrett? What percentage of the time do you think when we call each other about it ends up with us, one of us saying, “I think we have to do the Living BIG thing here”?
ABR: Oh, pretty frequent. But I also think that can come after getting upset with each other, because unless we start off the call saying, “I need a vent and I don’t want y’all to say shit. I need you to fix this for me.” Unless we state clearly, we start going into different roles than what we’re hoping each other will show up as.
ABR: But if we do ask for what we want, it’s easier to get to Living BIG.
BB: Yeah. I just think so often when we’re pissed off, if we’re not pissed off at each other, but we’re pissed off at somebody outside of each other, I think 80% of the time, if it’s someone in our family or someone at work or someone, whatever, we’ll end up like, “Fuck, I’m just going to have to Live BIG here. And then we’ll help each other. Well, what boundaries do you think will be helpful here? And then what does your integrity feel like here?
ABR: And if they are doing the best they can, is there some skills that we could teach them? Is there some skills we could teach each other when we’re doing something, like what is it that we can do? Plus boundaries. But what can we do to help each other look at the bigger picture? But it takes away the anger and the pissed off and the resentment, instantly.
BB: Instantly. It’s almost like, whoosh.
ABR: And it’s not like, whoosh rainbows and butterflies.
ABR: And then I get to figure out what is the work underneath that that I need to do.
BB: Yeah. I’ll tell a story. I was doing this, a focus group, and we came to this, and we were talking about the research, and this woman said, “My sister is absolutely not doing the best she can. We were both trained in classical ballet. I don’t dance anymore because…” this and this and that and injuries. But she still could. And instead, she drinks a lot. And she was an exotic dancer, I think is the word she used. So is she doing the best she can? No. And I always ask this question and I asked it in a much more researcher way. I’m sure you’d get underneath it. “What would it mean if she were doing the best she could, if that was her best?” And the woman just started crying and she said, “That would be so devastating for me, and I would feel so much grief.”
BB: How often do you see grief as the thing that we’re trying to avoid with our anger and believing that people are just making shitty choices?
ABR: Oh, most of the time. Most of the time it’s grief. Yeah, because even you said that when we get to the place that we can say, “Okay, yes, this person is doing the best they can,” then we are no longer holding out hope for change. And so, before we get there, part of the reason that we’re so frustrated and angry is because we keep thinking they’re going to change or something’s going to happen and it’s going to be different. But when we get to the point where we can say, “Okay, they’re doing the best they can, what does this mean? What comes next?” Then it goes into, I’m not bargaining anymore. I’m just there saying, “This is what I’m going to get. What do I need to grieve? What do I need to be okay with?” And then it’s like, “What are the boundaries that I have to put in place?” Because we were talking about this the other day on a call with the interns. We were talking about there’s like really no generosity without the boundary piece of it.
BB: How can you be generous…
ABR: If you’re not boundaried?
BB: You can’t.
BB: I mean, I’ll tell you an example of this. And I’m trying to think about whether I feel comfortable talking about this or not. But I think I do, is I think one of the things that this was just revolutionized in my life for me was the relationship we have with our parents.
ABR: Um hum. Say more.
BB: I think I was very early on saying, “What boundaries need to be in place for me to be in my integrity and be generous toward them.”
BB: You know, and some of that was grief work. Like, I’m not going to get some of the things I needed. And I have to say that I did that work. And I did that work with my therapist, but I have to say that my relationship with them became much more loving and much more honest and much more real, because it’s like going to a well that is dry and continue to go to that well over and over and then kicking the well. But just the well and just breaking your own foot doing that. And it was…
ABR: It’s the rock.
BB: Yeah. It’s move the rock. We can talk about that as another example at work. But it was like this sense of real integrity and wholeheartedness that I felt that I’m very clear on who they are and who they are not and what’s going to work and what’s not going to work. And I love them so deeply at the exact same time knowing exactly who they are.
ABR: Yeah. And it allows you to sit back and think, “Okay, if they’re doing the best they can, why is that? Oh my gosh, like what skills did they get? What did they see? How are they…” You know, like when we think about our parents, the way that they were raised, it’s not surprising at all that how it filtered to us.
BB: No. And I think you can attest to this. I’ve been very boundaried with them for a very long time. “Like just here’s what’s okay, here’s what’s not okay.” In terms of my parenting choices. “Here’s what’s okay. Here’s what will never happen again.”
ABR: Yeah. And so, I see grief a lot, but I also see joy. I can see stories of joy that have happened where people have done this because they get to mold what the relationship is going to be like because they let go of how it was and the turmoil and everything. And when they get to a place of figuring it out, it’s joy.
BB: It is joy. Yeah. And I have that. And the generosity feels joyful to offer and the boundaries feel like it prevents the hurt.
ABR: Yeah. And like you said earlier, you’re not the kind of person that wants to be the ass. And so you get to stay in your integrity.
BB: I do. Oh, God, I hate being out of my integrity. That’s the number one nightmare. Yeah. You know, and I think just saying things and giving people tools. Like, I remember the first time there was a little bit of a criticism about something I was doing with one of the kids, from Dad, and saying, “Here’s what’s okay.”
BB: “Being invested in the welfare of my kids, I love and appreciate and it’s okay. Telling me how to parent them is not okay.”
ABR: And could you do that from a place of questioning your own parenting?
BB: No. No, because then I would just defend, defend, defend, defend. I’d be rageful. And be like, “Hey, you fucked us up, it’s my turn.”
ABR: Yeah. [laughter] Fuck your own kids up. [laughter] Yeah, totally.
BB: Yeah. And I think when I did that, he was like, “All right, Sis, I got you loud…” you know how he talks. “Okay. I don’t want to get sideways. All right, Sis, we got you. I got you.” And then it became really good. And he watched a lot and asked a lot of questions.
ABR: Oh, yeah.
BB: Yeah. And I said, “Why are you doing that? Or why are you saying that?” And he’s like, “God damn, They hadn’t written that book yet when y’all came along.”
ABR: Y’all are raising negotiators.
BB: Yeah. [laughter] My dad told me I was raising hostage negotiators. Anyway. The rock story was really interesting. So, I’m at West Point, and working with a very small group, focused group of maybe five or six special forces leaders. And I said, “Do you believe people are doing the best they can?” And there was either a tentative, “I think maybe so” and “Hell no.” Just like was born out in all of the research. And then so to one of the guys that said, “Hell no.” I said, “Can you think of someone specific?” And he said, “Yeah, I can think of someone that reports up to me.” You know, and I love this. I said, “What if you were told from someone on high that they were?” And he goes, “I need to know the source of the intelligence, ma’am.” [laughter] I talked to this person for a long time and he was a very, very faith-based person. I said, “What if God told you?” And he said, “What?” And I said, “What if God said to you directly,” you know, “This person is doing the very best they can”? And he kind of put his head down and he shifted in his seat, and it felt like 30 minutes. It was probably three. And he said, “I’d have to move the rock, ma’am.” And I said, “What does that mean?” And he said, “Every day I get here and I shove the rock and I scream at the rock, and I kick the rock and I try to push the rock. And I feel awful about who I am. He feels belittled and awful.”
BB: “And I would have to move the rock.” And I said, “Where would you move it?” And he said, “I’d have to apologize and move the rock. And then I’d move the rock to somewhere where he could make a valuable contribution because I’m sure there’s a place that that exists like that, ma’am.” He was very tearful. I mean, a lot of people when we ask this question, “What if people are doing the best they can?” And I don’t want to go into the whole red herring thing of like, so no one can change or get better, yeah, we’re saying just on a day-to-day basis for the most part with the tools people have, they’re doing the best they can. Very few people set out to fuck things up on purpose. And people say, well, this is the question I get all the time. I remember like 12 years ago or 15 years ago being on PBS here and the interviewer said, “What about terrorists and serial killers? Are they doing the best they can?” And I thought to myself and I said, “Yeah, which is why they’re unsafe and need to be like apprehended and either restorative justice and changed or locked away and…” Period. But I think there’s a lot of times when I ask people, “Do you think people are doing the best? What if you really found out from whatever your sources, nature wrote it in a pond…” I don’t know what it is. You know, the answer is, “Well, if that’s true, then I’m an asshole.” Do you hear that a lot?
ABR: Sometimes. Not a lot. I mean, no.
BB: Maybe because you’re doing it in the context of therapy and it’s more about grief work and you’re talking more about feelings.
ABR: Yeah, probably. I don’t hear that a lot. When you said it, it rang true for me.
BB: But what do you hear?
ABR: I mean, mostly for me, it’s grief for the work that I do. It goes into grief. So that means that I’m not ever going to get what I was hoping to get.
BB: Yeah. That’s the grief part.
BB: It’s so much easier to say, “I’m an asshole” than to say that I’m really sad.
ABR: Yeah, totally. But also, like, you got to do the grief work either way, because it’s either going to happen now, it’s going to happen in 5 years, it’s going to happen in 10 years. But doing the grief work frees you up to be able to, like, as social workers, like, meet people where they’re at, right? So, like, if Bob’s talking about his relationship with his mom and he comes to the conclusion, “Yeah, my mom’s doing the best that she can,” and Bob does the grief work about it. What I’ve seen is Bob gets to have a really great relationship with his mom because he’s got some boundaries in place and he knows exactly what he can and can’t get from her. He’s not going back to try to get something that’s not there.
BB: What would you say in these final words about the power for Living BIG for you in your personal life?
ABR: The power for me and my personal life is it just allows me to let go of the anger and the resentment. I mean, setting the boundaries in place. So, I would say it feels better to be generous to the behaviors that people are showing. And it might not be okay with me so that I can do some boundary work around it. And I know I’m staying true to who I am.
BB: That’s the big one.
ABR: Yeah, and it’s like I get to take back that time and energy I’ve spent on being angry and pissed and wanting and wishing for more and take that time and put it somewhere else. So, I think that that’s my biggest thing. And there are days and moments in my life I thought over COVID everybody sucked. But if I’m in a pretty good season right now, I can Live BIG and feel really proud about it and also not spend a lot of energy around it. What about you?
BB: The same. I feel like the other piece about boundaries is accountability because I feel like if you look at some politicians, I mean, let’s take Trump, for example. People have asked me before, “So you think Donald Trump’s doing the best he can?”
ABR: I’ve gotten that too.
BB: Have you?
ABR: Yeah, totally.
BB: And I’ll say “Absolutely, which is why he’s a clear and present threat to democracy.” You know, like, so yes, I do. And so if you want to keep voting for him thinking he’s probably just a really good guy on the inside while he destroys everything that this country is about, that’s not good thinking. You know, so yeah, I do. I mean, I think when I’m really shitty to somebody and was I doing the best I could? Yeah. So, what was going on? If that was my best right there, what was going on? Oh, man, I was too tired. I was too overwhelmed. I haven’t set a good boundary. I haven’t asked for what I needed. I’m in resentment. I’m in burnout. But if I just blow it off and say, “No, I was just having a bad day. I’m better than that, I wasn’t doing my best. I need to do better next time.” No, that was my best. So what the heck? Because I didn’t intentionally set out ever to hurt anybody. And so, I don’t know, I think there’s something really magic about the Living BIG in my life. I just think it has freed up my cup for really good things.
ABR: Just a reminder, if you’re at home and you’re starting to think about, “How am I going to implement this into my life?” It’s not a free pass to let someone off the hook. It’s about how it changes your life, not someone else’s.
BB: Yeah. If you’re going to be more generous without setting boundaries, that’s the cheat. That doesn’t work. I’ll tell the story. I think I may have told it before on the podcast. It will be a good final story, but having given up gossiping for Lent one year, I realized that I had very few friends. This is when the kids were little, that I had really meaningful relationships with. Mostly I just talked shit about other people, while driving away in my car with the no-bullying, teaching our kids not to talk bad about people while we stood around at school and talked bad about people at drop-off. And so, I gave up gossiping for Lent. I was like, “Shit, this is hard.” I’m just not talking bad about people, talking to people instead of talking bad about them. So when Christmas rolled around, I always had a holiday party, and it was a late afternoon holiday party, and invited kids right after school pick up, and invited parents. And there was a woman who, in our neighborhood at different things, at like those parties that you auction off or fundraisers and at book club, had a reputation for drinking a ton, passing out sometimes.
BB: And the year before, she had gotten really drunk at my house. And it scared me, and it scared the kids. The kids had never seen anyone like that before. And sober 26 years, at the time I was probably sober 15, or maybe less than that, because this was a long time ago. I mean, Ellen maybe was in fourth grade or third grade. And I remember, “What am I going to do?” Because the way that most people dealt with that is they talked about her to other people, you know? And I talked to her one day after school, and I just said, so Living BIG’s been around a long time.
ABR: Maybe we just didn’t have the language.
BB: No, no, this is after Living BIG. This was, yeah, because I’m picturing where I had that conversation with Steve at the red table. And I remember what house that was in, and that was a long time ago. Ellen was in elementary school. And so, God, I’ve seen Diana for a long time. And I’m just saying, still work in progress. And so I just said, “Hey, I really hope you all come to the Christmas party this year. Can’t wait. I’m going to have to ask you if you come this year to not drink.” And she kind of laughed a little bit and said, “Oh, I got a little tipsy last time.” And she said, “I’ll take it easy.” And I said, “I’m not asking you to take it easy. I hope you come, and I hope the kids come. But I’m going to have to ask you not to drink.” And she said, “Are you saying that I can’t have a drop of alcohol at your house during the Christmas party?” And I said, ‘That’s exactly what I’m asking.” And she said, “I wouldn’t come to your party, if it was the last fucking Christmas party on earth.” And I said, “Well, I’m sad to hear that, but I understand, it’s your choice.” And she left, and I started crying. And I was like really confused about if I’d done the right thing or not. But then the more I thought about it, I thought, what were my options, to cancel the party, to subject my kids and myself to something that’s really scary for me?
BB: Or to do what most other people did, was say nothing to her but talk about her. And that’s out of my integrity. And so that was not easy. So, I want people listening to think, oh, generous, generous. No, the boundaries part is hard as hell.
ABR: Hard as hell.
BB: And I think the way we do boundaries is so great, which is, “Here’s what’s okay and here’s what’s not okay.”
BB: “I hope you come, but I’m going to have to ask you not to drink.” “I love that you’re invested in my kids and how they’re doing. I’m going to have to ask you not to criticize my parenting.”
BB: It’s very much “I want to help. I’m not able to do that. Here’s what I can do right now. This is not a good time for me to volunteer, but I appreciate you asking, and please ask again.” You know what I’m saying?
BB: Yeah. Because really the only thing we do in lieu of boundaries is anger, resentment, and gossip. That stuff is very slippery if you’re in recovery. All right, y’all. So this is the final sign-off.
ABR: That’s so crazy.
BB: I know.
ABR: I wish Barrett was here.
BB: Yeah, I do too.
ABR: Hey, Bare.
BB: Hey, Bare. [chuckle]
BB: I was going to say Burnie Bee, but that’s for me, right?
ABR: Yeah. I found that the other day. It’s so funny. It’s blue and yellow paint pen.
BB: Oh, yeah. They had this little song. They sang to me. How’d it go?
ABR: “Burnie Bee, Burnie Bee, tell me when your wedding be? If it be this very day, take your wings and fly away.” Now, I don’t know if we made that up or we heard it somewhere, but then…
BB: Copyright unknown?
BB: And so, I had these little things made for them, like back when you used to take like clear plastic and write on it with paint pen. Yeah. I made the little poem for my wedding. It has been so fun and so great. I am deeply appreciative of you and this awkward, brave, and kind community. Don’t forget that all of the podcasts will remain available for you to listen to on Spotify. You can also find them on brenebrown.com.
ABR: You also have a newsletter.
BB: Yeah, a newsletter. You can sign up for on brenebrown.com. Keep you posted on what’s happening. And if we decide to do some podcasts again, which I can imagine will be in the future, probably.
ABR: Yeah. And I always think it’s so fun to your social media, too, right? Like when our team designs those really great assets and it pulls out quotes from the podcast, it’s so fun to see the quotes. And it just like gets me excited to go and listen.
BB: Yeah. And we really changed something, you know, after the sabbatical, I came back. And so what boundaries need to be in place for me to be in my integrity and generous toward other people? And so social media is often this like competition for how many likes and those kind of things you can get. And we didn’t realize there was an option to say, the only people that can comment on our stuff are people that follow me on social and have been following me for more than 24 hours before the post. And I think it narrows it down to this community of awkward, brave, and kind folks who disagree passionately sometimes, but try to be respectful and thoughtful and learn and listen and stay curious. And so that’s been an incredible boundary. So, we’ll be on social and newsletters and I will find you. [laughter] We will be together again. All right. Signing off. Awkward, brave, and kind folks. Unlocking Us is a Spotify original from Parcast. It’s hosted by me, Brené Brown. It’s produced by Max Cutler, Kristen Acevedo, Carleigh Madden, and Tristan McNeil. And by Weird Lucy Productions. Sound design by Tristan McNeil and music is by the amazing Carrie Rodriguez and the amazing Gina Chavez.
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