Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Seriously Vulnerable

This is my second post about Silver Spoon in a week. Did I mention lately how much I love this show?

One plot that has become a major part of Silver Spoon this season revolves around Yuugo as he finds himself attached to one of the school’s piglets. Knowing, though, that said piglet will eventually end up in someone’s stomach, he gives him the name “Pork Bowl”… though that doesn’t keep him from forming an attachment to the cute little guy.

Piglets are so moe. (Art by )

To the other students at the agricultural school, this is silliness. They grew up in an environment where animals are killed for food, so they are used to all this and know that forming attachments to these future food products would not be productive. For Yuugo, who is new to this whole world, though, he knows no better, and simply chooses to struggle through his newfound, conflicted feelings about eating livestock.

When he returns from summer break, he encounters yet another trial: Pork Bowl has grown up and will soon be shipped out, but due to malnourishment, he is currently “off-grade” and would not sell for much at all. Somehow, from this Yuugo comes to the conclusion that he must fatten up his little buddy, or else he will regret it, and starts going the extra mile to make sure that Pork Bowl is fed properly. Then, after successfully helping Pork Bowl towards at least reaching a “medium” grade, he talks with his classmates about his conflicted feelings over the fact that the very reason these animals are born is to later be killed and eaten.

This is not a post about the morality of eating animals, though. Rather, it is about the perspective of various staff and older students about him. Upon overhearing Yuugo talk about this, one staff member says he just needs to “change gears”, implying he either needs to get over it or get out. However, it is the words of the next person, in response to this, that will be the focus of this post:

"He could just pretend to deal with it, to get himself through school. But instead, he takes it seriously and is honest about it with the people around him."

Honestly Vulnerable

What this particular person is commenting on is how Yuugo seems to naturally draw people to him because of his serious approach to things. He noticed it earlier when he directed everyone in a group project to make pizza, and he’s noticing it now when Yuugo displays such seriousness in tackling his discomfort over the fate of these farm animals head-on.

As a part of his seriousness, though, I think that Yuugo’s vulnerability—that is, how he is “honest about it with the people around him”—that is in particular drawing people to him.

Vulnerability is a scary word. It means that we are open to getting hurt, whether physically or, more often, emotionally. Since most humans do not like getting emotionally hurt, as a general rule of thumb humans go through most of their day trying to avoid vulnerability. We put up defenses, wear a facial expression that masks our true feelings, and when others ask how we are, we say that we’re fine. In one way, there’s nothing wrong with these defenses; it’s simply that the extent to which we trust most people is just not enough to leave the parts of us that are most likely to get hurt badly open to them. This can be a good thing in certain contexts, so I am not knocking the human tendency to put up defenses.

However,  that was not how God intended human relationship to be. When He created Adam and Eve, they were naked and yet “knew no shame” (Genesis 2:25). Only after the Fall, when sin became an ugly reality, did they cover themselves with fig leaves. This not only indicated their newfound shame at their vulnerability, but also the fact that, as a result of the Fall, they were now disconnected from each other, and that disconnection and lack of vulnerability would be the default for interpersonal relationships for future generations.

From then on, these “fig leaves”, our defenses against vulnerability, were a necessary part of fallen life, and with that, it meant that we were disconnected with most people in our lives. However, humans also have a desire to be connected with each other, lest we be lonely, except we cannot fulfill that desire while in this natural state of being on the defensive and thus disconnected.

So when someone like Yuugo is willing to drop those defenses, be honest about some parts of himself that could open him up to be hurt (such as his discomfort over animals being raised for food), and thus be vulnerable, something happens. Like an iron bar near a magnet, we start to be drawn to this person. In fact, if you know some of the science around magnets, you know that the iron bar itself will actually become a magnet; likewise, someone else’s vulnerability can encourage us to drop our own defenses and be vulnerable in return. And in the process, a connection between people is formed.

This doesn’t always happen so cleanly, though, and frequently, people still leave up some of their defenses, keeping the connection from getting stronger past a certain level; some connections could also end up uneven depending on who is being more vulnerable. Still, in the end, as scary as vulnerability can be, it is also the very thing that draws people to each other. (In fact, vulnerability is one factor that is frequently considered moe; the reason the tsunderecharacter exists is because when that character drops her sour “tsun” side and displays her “dere” side in showing just how much she cares for someone, she is lowering her defenses and becoming vulnerable, which evokes emotions that some describe as moe.)

Of course, it’s not good to be completely vulnerable to every person out there; there are some people that are just plain not to be trusted, and even among friends, it’s good to have some boundaries and only have a couple, very trusted people, either of the same gender or your spouse, with whom you are 100% vulnerable to, while not revealing too much to others. (Yuugo, for example, has yet to really talk about his strained family situation.) That said, we can determine a certain amount of vulnerability, perhaps just a bit past our comfort zone, that we can have even with people we are not that close to, such as co-workers or classmates. Even that small amount of vulnerability can have wondrous effects on the relational atmosphere of the people involved… if that vulnerability is combined with seriousness.

Vulnerably Serious

It's possible to be vulnerable about something—say, for example, eating too unhealthy—but not be serious about it. To be vulnerably serious means to approach those vulnerable aspects of yourself with the full intention of resolving them, whatever that may look like. The vulnerably serious person is open about his struggles with eating too much, but is also invested in looking at why he eats too much and what it would take to change that.

To be vulnerably serious is to also be seriously vulnerable, because the chance of getting hurt increases greatly; in some cases, to be vulnerably serious means you're outright guaranteed to get hurt. The person that knows you are serious about changing your eating habits won't leave you alone if he sees you surrounded by burgers and cakes; he'll drag you away from them by force if he has to! And yet, if the connection is there, it will ultimately be a good thing; after all, "faithful are the wounds of a friend" (Proverbs 27:6, ESV).

Probably what distinguishes simply being vulnerable and being seriously vulnerable is that while the former is just informing others of something that is still otherwise private, the latter actively involves others in that which one is dealing with. With Yuugo, we see this as he actively discusses his thoughts about animals being raised for food, as well as what he is personally dealing with regarding Pork Bowl, with his classmates. The neat thing is, while one can be vulnerable without being seriously vulnerable, the very act of being vulnerable can eventually lead towards being seriously vulnerable, since after forming the connection, one can eventually become more comfortable in letting someone else take active involvement in those issues involved.

Because of how others are actively involved in one's life, serious vulnerability can really draw people and form strong connections. It has other benefits too; in the same scene where it's mentioned how Yuugo draws people to him with his seriousness, another staff member mentions that Yuugo's outside perspective on raising livestock is forcing these other kids who have been too indoctrinated in farm life to think twice about such issues to think twice about them. The end result is growth for everyone. Being vulnerable and bringing up an issue, whether it be a sin we struggle with, an uncomfortable situation we're not sure how to handle, or even a dream we're thinking of pursuing, allows others who are affected by that issue to take part in the growth process as well.

Of Course, At This Point Pork Bowl Is Most Vulnerable

It looks like the season will close out with the story of Yuugo and Pork Bowl, and I am definitely looking forward to seeing how all of this will play out. In the end, though, whatever answer Yuugo arrives at is ultimately not as important as the journey he takes getting there. And that is what really makes Silver Spoon so great; it is a show that fully embraces the journey rather than the destination.

In the meantime, perhaps we can learn from Yuugo what it means to be seriously vulnerable and vulnerably serious by dropping our defenses, even if only a little bit, so that we can connect with the people around us.

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