I’ve sort of gotten into the habit of looking for the vulnerable guy, the guy who makes mistakes, the guy who can’t figure things out all the time but keeps at it.” Jimmy Stewart
Ok so as I said in my last post, I am reading a bio of Jimmy Stewart, however I’m not making much progress so the review will have to wait. I took up Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd after seeing the latest film adaptation and am gravitating towards it on most evenings. I have read enough though, I’m about three quarters done, to be able to say that I think Stewart was correct in the above and although he was merely referring to the fictional characters he played, his sentiment could be equally applied to those people who in real life are vulnerable, who on the surface may appear to be in trouble, not in control, but who are in fact in total control, in an uncontrolled way.
And if that seems a little contradictory I point you in the direction of Brene Brown, author of the New York Times bestsellers The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly, and a regular on PBS,NPR, CNN and TED Talks. She has spent over 12 years researching and studying topics like shame, courage, worthiness and most pertinent to this post, vulnerability. Her findings, after said research, are that we all seek to connect and it is this desire for connection that is vital and fundamental to the human experience. It is a theme that runs through many of the novels of E.M. Forster, one of my favourite English novelists, and someone who understood all too well the damage a lack of connection can do. However not every one achieves or finds this connection, but of those who do, Brown discovered, they were people who had fully embraced their vulnerability. People who happily accepted that it was their imperfections that made them perfect, or at least who they are, and because of this knowledge, they made and had these all important connections in their lives.
Stewart had a long and illustrious career. His distinctive voice and his average looks meant he was repeatedly cast as the common man facing common life problems. Because he did not possess the looks of say Grant or the masculinity of Cooper the studios had difficulties establishing just what type of a star he was. I don’t think Stewart knew what type of star he was either, and it seems as as though he treated each success as just that, but did not take for granted that another was in the offing. Always in the background was the knowledge that he had the family business back in Indiana,Pennsylvania as a backup plan. Or there were his aviation interests, ; he could always go in that direction (excuse the pun) if the acting business fell through. What the studios did know was that he was hugely popular as people liked that he revealed insecurities, that he was uncertain about things, that he had to take risks and they might not always pay off. In short ,that he was vulnerable. In the end he did always know that right answer, or at least an answer, and just as his character George Bailey came to realise that yes, it was a wonderful life, it may not be perfect, but it was worth living.
I am reluctant to admit my failures and for too long kept my emotions so unexposed that even I began to question their existence, and yet I find vulnerability a strangely attractive quality. And given that Stewart is ranked 3rd greatest male screen legend by the AFI, I am not alone. This appeal of that which I struggle with has been a bit of an eye-opener. If I find it so attractive in others, why am I so reluctant to admit it of myself? And then upon hearing Brown speak about it in such glowing terms, I realised I needed to re evaluate and perhaps allow myself to be imperfect, and equally allow others to be imperfect. In her TED talk Brown finishes with an exhortation to us to be parents who accept and love our children for who they are, and not who we want them to be. This she believes is the key to their future happiness and success. And it is advice I am happy to take for both myself and my children. Advice I think Jimmy, the man who made the character of one Elwood P. Dowd, who believes his best friend to be a six foot invisible rabbit, someone to admire, too would have endorsed.