When thinking of a time and place to allow oneself to be vulnerable, people, especially those in professional positions, often find that they’d only let their emotional guard down around close friends, family and significant others. For some, vulnerability is best left for a psychologist or an empty room.
But for Austin Savage, the founder and director of local performance company Border Theatre, vulnerability is the key to unlocking not only one’s creativity, but community progress as well.
Cynicism is prevalent now, it’s prevalent in art.
It’s prevalent in human interaction.”
“The opportunity to discover more about yourself can only come about by reaching out to others, because if you’re not reaching out to others, then you’re only containing yourself, and by containing yourself, you create an armor,” Savage said. “You create a protective shield where you’re more worried about your perception and your supposed identity as opposed to the powerful thing that’s inside of you.”
When a friend of Savage suggested he talk for this year’s TEDxElPaso conference, he decided to highlight vulnerability as a powerful way to address an ongoing issue many creative thinkers face.
A significant turning point in Savage’s approach to performance occurred when a cast member tragically died while in preparation for his first major show as a director.
During his talk, he didn’t specify the name of the play or the woman who was killed. Instead, with a gentle tone, he described her as a mother of two and as someone whose presence and later absence significantly impacted the cast and crew. Some decided not to proceed with the production, and those who did searched for ways to heal from the loss.
“We found the best way of doing that was opening up to each other. We had to do that before we could move on,” Savage said. “And I realized something. We had connected in a profound way and now we had something worth truly sharing with a larger community.”
But while opening up to one another proved valuable for the cast and crew, Savage still acknowledged that sharing one’s raw emotions is a challenge in society. He searched for answers as to why so many of us find it difficult to be authentic and candid.
Perhaps movies and TV shows play a major influence in our desire to suppress our emotions, Savage suggested. We try to play it cool and create social masks. In the non-fictional world we call reality, real emotions and intentions are often buried underneath a projected image of oneself in order to fit in.
“Vulnerability is considered weakness in a lot of circles, and to a certain extent, in my family,” Savage said. “But when you look back over it, there are tremendous examples of people being vulnerable and being whole. Ulysses wept and so did Achilles. According to the Bible, Jesus himself wept too.”
As Savage made eye contact with the audience in the El Paso Community Foundation room, he appeared to wear no social mask. Exhibiting pensiveness and excitement through every facial expression and hand movement, the emotions he revealed as he stood on the platform in front of an audience of over 100 seemed like the same emotions he’d reveal to a close friend in privacy.
He then challenged the audience to join him in vulnerable honesty.
“If you can say one simple truth, then you have been brave for that day. And all you have to do is find some person and tell them, ‘you are a human being,’” Savage said. “If you’re brave enough to commit that act, then you can take it one step further and tell another person, ‘You can hurt me.’ We know both of those things to be true. And we have to embrace it in order to move forward.”
Later, Savage said that this year’s TEDxElPaso reflected El Paso’s societal advancement. “I think it proves that our community is growing in terms of being able to provide the quality of thinkers and speakers that we have and it’s proving that our community has a voice that communicates with the global community at large,” he said.
The topic of vulnerability seemed relevant to Savage, not only in terms of exploring human behavior, but to TED Talks as well.
“The motto of TED is ‘Ideas worth sharing,’” Savage said. “You can’t share something if you’re not willing to be vulnerable.”