Our culture is inexhaustible in its capacity to ignore the fact of our vulnerability. As a result, we are all becoming more fragile.

The fashion, advertising and sports industries ‘sell’ perfection of the body as something we should all strive for. Transhumanism promotes the seductive belief we can transcend our mental, social and psychological limitations. Not for them human weakness or frailty.

Oddly those who are closest to vulnerable people also deny the existence of vulnerability. Just recently I read a commentary from someone I respect which argued that calling a person vulnerable makes them more vulnerable. That argument has been around the disability world for an awfully long time. The legitimate worry is that a focus on vulnerability ignores a person’s gifts and capacities.

Notwithstanding that dilemma, I wonder if it is time to refresh the argument. And to reveal the strength and beauty in vulnerability.

The point about vulnerability is that we are all vulnerable at various times in our lives. In fact, we are more vulnerable than we think.

Yes, it should not define us. Nor is it the only thing about us. But it is one of the things that make us human. Despite what promoters of perfection would have us believe.

Vulnerability deniers should be careful. They may inadvertently:

  • Rob people who are vulnerable of one of their greatest gifts – teaching us how to live, love and thrive with vulnerability
  • Diminish those who take care of people who are vulnerable and dependent
  • Allow our culture to perpetuate the myth of independence
  • Overlook a precious mindset in healing a vulnerable planet.

Vulnerability deniers are similar to climate change deniers. They practice a dangerous deceit. To quote Oscar Wilde: “To deny one’s own experience is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.”

The reality is that all of us are vulnerable to climate change. One of the reasons we are ill prepared or haven’t made much progress on that front is that we deny our vulnerability. We don’t recognize that resilience emerges from and is informed by vulnerability. Just ask anyone with a disability, chronic illness, ageing parents or cancer. Or who is raising children, has an accident, loses a job or experiences a marriage breakdown…

Accepting our vulnerability may indeed be our salvation. The truth about vulnerable is that that’s who we are.


“If we are afraid of our desert places then we become more afraid of the vulnerability outside ourselves — of the other”

     – Frances Westley 

Check out this wonderful new song Avalanche by Kalle Mattson. Mattson’s voice is “paper thin, wavering, strong in its freedom to be weak, fearless in vulnerability,” according to Caitlin White. Buy Avalanche here.

As a bonus, check out the official version of Avalanche. It’s a homage to album covers from Kalle’s childhood. See how many you can spot here.


Glory Days

Without a Vision People Perish; Without a Vehicle Vision Languishes

Play the Field with Concepts but Stay Faithful to Your Ethics

A River Runs Through John

Whole Systems Change is not a Rubik’s Cube



  1. Donna Thomson

    Al, I am going to bookmark this, share it and then read it again and again. Thank you! I think in a way, we’ve all had a recent reminder about vulnerability with the photo of Syrian refugee toddler. And that photo has reminded us of the danger in denying or ignoring vulnerability.

    • Al Etmanski

      Thanks Donna.I will be writing more about the link between climate change and caregiving. The two fields shouldn’t be seen as separate and need each other if we are to transcend the challenges.

  2. David Dalley

    As a physiotherapist and advocate with the Transition Town movement (http://www.villagesurrey.ca/) I am very interested about this topic, and especially the link between caregiving and climate change. Please keep me posted and let me know if you see any opportunity to collaborate in Surrey.

  3. Al Etmanski

    thanks David – you may be interested in this book – While Glaciers Slept: Being Human in a Time of Climate Change

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