The Hippo


Jul 16, 2019








Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone
by Brené Brown (Random House, 194 pages)


It’s easy these days to want to withdraw from all the drama and chaos that is going on. Some of us are tired of trying to fit in, pretend or make the people around us comfortable. We just want to be alone. 
And yet we still want to belong. 
Not belonging is painful. It can break our spirits. It can break our hearts. And it can mold our future. According to Brown, when you don’t belong, you live in constant pain and seek relief by numbing it and/or inflicting it on others; you deny your pain and your denial ensures that you pass it on to those around you and down to your children, or you find the courage to own the pain and develop a level of empathy and compassion for yourself and others that allow you to spot hurt in the world in a unique way. 
In Braving the Wilderness, Brown writes about that confusing situation of trying to stand alone but wanting to join in, especially after the 2016 election: “We have geographically, politically, and even spiritually sorted ourselves into like-minded groups in which we slice dissent, grow more extreme in our thinking and consume only facts that support our beliefs — making it easier to ignore evidence that our positions are wrong.” 
In this world, we need new skills on how to belong to some groups and how to negotiate with other groups (like the family at the holiday table) to get along. With so many people being divisive these days, America has a new landscape and we all need to understand the skills needed to navigate. 
Brown believes there are four practices we should use to challenge how we think about ourselves and connect with others: (1) People are hard to hate up close. Move in. (2) Speak truth to BS. Be civil. (3) Hold hands with strangers. (4) Strong back. Soft front. Wild heart. 
For each practice, Brown outlines steps and the reasons behind the steps for reaching out to others. Braving the Wilderness is a roadmap for people who are alone and who want to have a meaningful connection with others. It is also for those who want to regain some personal power that may have been lost in their isolation. 
It all begins with respecting yourself. Once you accept yourself, you can belong anywhere you choose, but without that acceptance you will forever feel like an outcast. Using personal stories as well as stories about others, Brown clearly outlines and supports her premise. It would be difficult, if not impossible, not to see and agree with her point of view. 
Braving the Wilderness is a smart, easy read that gives clear and thoughtful communication tools. The book tells you how to recognize a like-minded group, how to act within that group, and how to leave when the group no longer fulfills your needs. Brown is like a modern-day Emily Post offering the skills and manners needed to create strength within yourself so that you can join that strength with others. 
As a research professor at the University of Houston, Brown has spent the past 16 years studying courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy and is the author of The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly and Rising Strong. She writes with a confident, empathetic voice, which makes it easy to connect with her message. 
While it may not be the most uplifting book you’ve ever read, in this modern age of isolation and perceived hurt from not belonging, Braving the Wilderness just may be one of the most important books you might read. Gift it to those who are lonely and who think they can never belong to a group. Let them know that there are ways out of the darkness — you just need to know where the path is. A 
— Wendy E.N. Thomas 

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