You don’t have to go very far back in time to find the global context that explains why the word “vulnerability” appears more and more in our conversations. Whether to use it as a noun (vulnerability) or an adjective (we are vulnerable), we cannot understand the last months, years, of our lives without making a direct or indirect reference to it.
Vulnerability comes from Latin wound y means “wound.” For the ancients, wounds were directly related to the body, so that being hurt meant being hurt on the physical plane. Gradually, the meaning of injury was broadening and began to also include mental suffering, and life sufferings or lovesickness began to be referred to as wounds of life The the wound of love.
Today we think of human vulnerability in these two planes (the physical and the mental) and also in some more. Social vulnerability, economic vulnerability or technological vulnerability are expressions that we use to refer to a situation of special precariousness or fragility in those specific contexts. We are vulnerable, there is no question. And we always are, even in moments when fragility and precariousness become more pronounced when we habitually recognize that this vulnerability, which we embody every day and every hour, is in the first person. And we are vulnerable because we detect and recognize it in our bodies, and because we are overwhelmed by a feeling of insecurity or fear in the face of certain experiences or emotional trances. We are vulnerable, as the classics already said, in body and soul.
We could say that being vulnerable means, in essence, being susceptible to being affected. In other words, the images, words, gestures or objects that impact us do so in such a decisive way that our being is completely affected by it. Sometimes even in the form of wounds. We are constitutively vulnerable, and this is evident on all levels of what we do, both in the field of our theoretical knowledge and in our practical choices. We are always exposed to uncertainty and fallibility, either because we wonder what we can know or because we take responsibility for our freedom by wondering what we should do. Without losing sight, on the other hand, that in everything we carry out there is always a margin of our experience that we do not control, and that implies that, deep down, the unexpected can happen.
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We are vulnerable, and we are vulnerable in all aspects of our life. That is why our vulnerability also manifests itself in what is not negative or threatening. Being vulnerable also allows us to be the protagonists of many experiences that provide positive meaning and vitality. Without vulnerability we would be inert entities that neither affect others nor are affected by the other. Without being vulnerable we could not communicate, laugh, be moved or, of course, love. All the beautiful and good things that happen to us in life also happen because we are affected, because we are vulnerable.
The question is why when we think about the idea of vulnerability we connect above all with images and forms of suffering, negativity and unwanted things. Not that the homo vulnerabilis lest the man grieving. Suffering, illness or death are part of our daily lives, and this has a decisive impact on our day-to-day life. But so does solidarity, affection or the joy of being able to contemplate a landscape. We must insist: why when we talk about vulnerability we tend to associate it primarily with negative experiences?
The answer to this question can be neither simple nor definitive. Many elements come into play, and surely some of them escape us (after all, we are vulnerable, fallible). Elements ranging from what Spinoza called the you tried the existential self-affirmation by which each thing strives to persevere in its being and avoid everything that could take away its existence, even what Bourdieu pointed out as habits or social dispositions that we subjects integrate and embody in our lives. Elements, then, that go from the finiteness and existential contingency that we live in privacy to the collective constructs that condition us, sometimes without realizing it.
In our society talking about our vulnerabilities seems to be a problem; we are not used to it and we do not do it, perhaps, because we believe that it reveals a weakness, implies a risk or implies a lack of decorum. Which is still paradoxical, because, if what it is about is to avoid feeling weak, reduce an alleged risk or avoid being classified as unseemly, there is nothing better than exposing the situation knowing how to share, communicate and analyze it. Covering your eyes to a certain reality does not make it disappear.
But the reality of our vulnerability puts us in the position in addition to recognizing ourselves as relative, reciprocal and responsible beings. Relative because we are always in relationship, with others and with the environment. Our “I” is not a fortified castle immune to the environment. If a cloudy day already affects our spirits, what will not a hug or its absence? Reciprocal because, by being in relationship, things affect us, yes, but we can also affect others. We can all play a leading role in the lives of others, hence vulnerability calls us to responsibility. That is, to the need to respond, to ourselves and to others, of what we do or omit. Ultimately, vulnerability implies a conception of the subject and the “I” that rescues him from the fantasy of his self-sufficiency. Which, it seems, is difficult for us to assume, be it for our attempted individual or by our social habit.
We are vulnerabilities in interrelation, that is why the dimensions of these vulnerabilities cover the entire chromatic range of the experiences that we can have. Moreover, the condition of possibility to be able to have an experience is, precisely, to be affected, vulnerable. It is true that taking a path to that vulnerability leaves scars, but thanks to it we are also in a position to let other things that also happen to us affect us: a splendid sunset, an intimate personal complicity or a warm hug. Would we be willing to miss them?
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