Room for Vulnerability, Room for Humanity

Room for Vulnerability, Room for Humanity

A reflection on our session with Dean Gibson

In the spirit of reconciliation, we acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respect to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.

October at MY BOOK CLUB was full of insightful lessons and fresh, challenging themes.

You Are Your Best Thing was our chosen book for the month. The book explores powerful themes such as shame, humanity, and healing. For anyone who has not read it, the three core themes of the book are:

  • Vulnerability
  • Shame Resilience
  • Lived Experience

Brené Brown and Tarana Burke edited this magnificent book which is structured as a collection of twenty compelling, honest, and eye-opening stories written by different individuals. Their stories uncover and highlight the black lived experience in America and their personal journeys with vulnerability and shame resilience.  

At MY BOOK CLUB it was important for us to align the powerful themes from You Are Your Best Thing to our country of origin – Australia.

We wanted to create conversations and opportunities for learning about the black lived experience on our own doorstep. We were honoured to have Aboriginal film director Dean Gibson join us as our guest speaker to discuss his ground-breaking documentary Incarceration Nation and the core themes from You Are Your Best Thing.

Let’s begin by understanding a little more about Vulnerability, Shame Resilience and Lived Experience.


Brené Brown defines vulnerability as "uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure." She also describes it as “the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity."

Being vulnerable requires courage and a willingness to be uncomfortable.

When we lean into vulnerability and discomfort not only does it cause significant social breakthroughs in our relationships with society, community, family, friends, and workmates, it also has an incredible impact on our own self-development.

Shame Resilience

Shame Resilience Theory was developed by Brené Brown and is grounded in her research which is based on building resilience to shame by connecting with our authentic selves and growing meaningful relationships with other people.

According to Brené, there are four key elements of Shame Resilience:

  1. Recognising shame and the triggers
  2. Practicing critical awareness
  3. Sharing our story
  4. Speaking our shame.

Lived Experience

Lived experience is defined as “personal knowledge about the world gained through direct, first-hand involvement in everyday events rather than through representations constructed by other people”.

Putting lived experience in context, stories of lived experience are one of the most powerful vehicles for truth-telling. Through storytelling, we find our voice, and eventually, our voice breaks down century-long barriers of silence. Read more about Lived Experience in our previous blog.

Dean Gibson

Dean joined us as our guest speaker this month. He is an incredible film-maker with over 12 years’ experience in the industry. Dean's documentary Incarceration Nation perfectly aligned with this month's theme, 'Vulnerability, Shame Resilience and the Black Experience'.

Incarceration Nation is a powerful documentary that explores elements of the oppressive post-colonial culture that is still present in modern-day Australia. The documentary, which focuses on Indigenous incarceration, highlights the connection between government intervention since colonisation and the trauma and disadvantage experienced by Indigenous Australians. Dean was an incredible guest speaker who so candidly and openly shared his path to creating Incarceration Nation and his feedback on both the book and our themes for October.

Vulnerability and Discomfort

Our expert speaker session with Dean explored vulnerability and discomfort and how these themes presented themselves throughout Incarceration Nation

In making the documentary Dean intended to make people feel a little bit uncomfortable, not enough to feel shamed, but for the non-indigenous audience to understand and empathise. To achieve this requires discomfort.

Empathy, according to Dean, is “the biggest thing that we all can do without doing a course”. All it takes is to sit, listen and understand where people are coming from. If we take on the lessons from our book and the documentary, ultimately, we need to be vulnerable, to listen, and to learn.

Stepping into vulnerability is not easy and takes enormous courage and as Brené Brown says, “we must be willing to dare greatly”.

The fact is, we cannot create any kind of impactful change; be it in the workplace, society, or our families, and at the same time keep people feeling comfortable, so we need to embrace discomfort with open arms and an open mind. Creating a safe space to lean into discomfort requires an environment that puts inclusivity and diversity first, where empathy and equity are part of the culture and where differing needs, approaches, and experiences are acknowledged and respected.

The Wisdom of the Process

In the session with Dean, he referenced a particular story from You Are Your Best Thing – The Wisdom of the Process by Prentis Hemphill.

Hemphill’s story reflects on moving through life as best possible even at the expense of healing. Trauma, shame, and poverty all get in the way of becoming vulnerable, finding resilience, and ultimately healing.

The message from Prentis’s story is that, from lived experience, it is a luxury to heal and become vulnerable, a luxury not often afforded to people who are disadvantaged, marginalised, or oppressed.

In Incarceration Nation most of the families and individuals that Dean met or heard about did not even have time to think about anything other than survival and day to day life. Like Prentis’s story, trauma, poverty, and disadvantage also get in the way of healing.

In Aboriginal history, and as Dean referenced, this leads us to reflect on both the stolen generation and stolen wages. From these two significant parts of Indigenous history so much has been lost, buried under decades of generational trauma, and the catalyst for that trauma - colonisation. 

Indigenous Australians have been put on a trajectory of poverty and disadvantage and that is a hard road to get off. In the era of stolen wages, they couldn’t accumulate their own wealth, and this was still happening up to the 1980s in Australia. Aboriginals were denied access to their own wages which locked them into a cycle of poverty for generations.

“When I was in school, I was told that Australia developed on the sheep's back. I now know that it developed on the backs of thousands of Aboriginal men, women and children”. Gary Highland – National Director, Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation.

Steps to Being Whole

The second story from You Are Your Best Thing that Dean drew parallels with black Australian lived experience was Steps to Being Whole, On Your Own Terms by Aiko D. Bethea.

The core takeaway from Bethea’s story is identity and both the problems that create feelings of a loss of identity and the preconceived stereotypes that society places on people of colour.

Aiko’s story explores what it is like as a person of colour to feel that you must assimilate into white society to be accepted. “When we strive to be accepted…..we often use tools of white supremacy as our armour to gird ourselves against the shame imposed by white supremacy”.

As we explored this story with Dean, we discussed the importance of shared stories and shared narratives. Sharing stories of lived experience help to break down the constructs that support power, white privilege, inequity, and shame. With Incarceration Nation Dean hopes that non-indigenous people watch the documentary with a learner mindset and walk away feeling more aware of what is happening right here under our noses every single day

Incarceration Nation – what we take away

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are amongst the most incarcerated people in the world – fact.
  • Approximately 65 per cent of incarcerated children aged between 10 and 13 in Australia are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander peoples – fact.
  • Indigenous youth make up 55 per cent of Australia’s youth prison population- fact.
  • There have been 474 Indigenous deaths in custody in Australia from 1991 to 2021 and no criminal convictions for the accused- fact.
  • Families live with the trauma of losing loved ones who have been in police custody or imprisoned, and that trauma continues when no one is held accountable- fact.
  • Indigenous Australians comprise 29% of the prison population but only 3.3% of the population- fact.

One of the key parts of our conversation with Dean was, how and when will real change and progress happen? A big question, and probably one that is very difficult to answer, but we need to start somewhere.

Local change

In the absence of real action at a Federal and State level, the most powerful propellent for change will be on the ground. By this we mean within localised groups, sports clubs, schools, businesses, organisations, and in our communities. This is applicable for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. We must all play a role. 


Dean believes that one of the greatest opportunities we have is for businesses to take the lead and set an example. In workplace organisations we need to move to prioritise our Culture departments and processes to include reforms that promote and foster:

  1. Diversity
  2. Equity
  3. Creating opportunities
  4. Inclusivity
  5. Empathy
  6. Truth telling
  7. Sharing

National Truth Telling

The privilege of Dean’s job is that he gets to meet people who are prepared to trust him and share their stories. How can we translate that on a national level?

As a nation we need to talk about the reality of post-colonial Australia, but are we ready?

What will that look like, and can we all walk through that pain and come out the other end with any reconciliation?

What role can we all play in storytelling? Dean called on everyone to become a part of the change and to never underplay the importance of the impact, big or small, that anyone can have.

Truth and Reconciliation is a complex process. In post-Apartheid South Africa, an entire commission was set up to heal past trauma and deal with the atrocities of the Apartheid era by hearing both the confessions and stories of the perpetrators and victims respectively. The success of this commission is still debated to this day because complete, collective forgiveness was not achieved. It was not achieved because only partial truths were told.

Arguably, South Africa, today is still coming to terms with the complexities of the hangover of post-colonialism – shame, guilt, denial, and trauma.

Room for Vulnerability, Room for Humanity

Reconciliation requires forgiveness, forgiveness demands the truth.

We must be ready to be brave and vulnerable. We must be prepared to both listen to and tell the truth if reconciliation is to be truly achieved in Australia.

There must be room for vulnerability so there can be room for humanity.  

Blog by Genie O'Dowd

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