When asked what I am studying in school—by a family friend, relative, or potential employer—ninety percent of the time I instinctively list Psychology before Philosophy. In modern-day American culture, the Philosophy major is a conundrum of sorts, a person who spends the greater majority of his or her time in school exploring the meaning, reason, and nature of the human’s existence, to little practical avail come graduation—unless the person in question aspires to be a lawyer or a philosophy professor. Psychology doesn’t seem to encounter similar roadblocks. I’ve come to view the standard Philosophy major jokes as a reflection of our own society, one that values irony over depth, sensation over reason, product over process, and above all, a society that encompasses an immense fear of being vulnerable.
The salience of alcohol in society indicates much of the same. There seems to be an imminent desire to be vulnerable, but a conscious inability to be so in our natural states. Anyone who drinks on occasion has probably realized that once in a while, drunken conversation tends toward the meaning of life. We tend to philosophize, or theorize about why the world is the way it is because inhibitions no longer exist. The fear of what we do not know isn’t there. We talk about the deeper things in life when we are not afraid of being wrong.
Speculating or theorizing publicly in any way fulfills the definition of vulnerability in entirety. Being vulnerable is being open or susceptible to attack or criticism—moral, physical, or otherwise. When drunk, you are existing in a state of being that is susceptible to attack—your likelihood of our getting hurt—emotionally, morally, and physically, no less—has increased tenfold. However, it is in this susceptibility that we find honesty. It is when we are the most vulnerable that we appear willing and able to talk and debate about some of the most deep-seated beliefs and fears that humans share.
I find a common thread in philosophers—the willingness to address hard questions and be wrong. A discipline that is dedicated to the intangible and unknown lends itself to attracting those with a propensity and desire to be vulnerable. I believe that being vulnerable is one of the most valuable yet undervalued qualities in a person. In typical, sober conversation, we tend to gravitate towards more trivial topics, those that almost seem to serve as a pacifier for the more pressing questions of existence, a sugar-coat to the bitter realization that as humans, we have no idea what we are doing here.
There is power in being vulnerable. Though exposed to criticism, rejection, and attack—none of which feel good—allowing oneself to be vulnerable allows he or she to experience a different kind of knowing themselves. Oftentimes, the mark of the greatest theories is the amount of criticism they receive, and through the possibility of being wrong, we learn the rewards of sharing and receiving insight. We expose our thoughts and ideas by shedding the most essential human fear—the realization that we actually are clueless about our meaning as humans.
Majoring in philosophy, in a sense, is akin to majoring in drunk conversations and the art of being vulnerable. Comparing my own field of study to conversation topics of shitfaced students is not a slight to philosophy’s subject matter. Rather, it is a testament to those willing to dedicate their years in the classroom to admitting cluelessness and surrendering their rigid minds to the possibility of new ideas. For it is in these moments of weakness, we find opportunities. Our inability to know for certain yields our ability to search for ways to live better, and by deconstructing old ways of thinking we construct anew, giving rise to new meanings of why exactly we are here. So have a few too many, read a little Thoreau, be vulnerable, and allow yourself see the world from a different pair of eyes.