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The Hidden Vulnerability of Others

There’s an optical illusion that’s easy to fall for, even if you know the trick: the more distant you are from other people, the more invulnerable they appear.

You see yourself as you are, with your failures just as clear as your successes. But you see most other people on their terms—only from the side they want you to see, like a statue on a high pedestal, stoic and confident. At first glance, they’ve got everything figured out, with every feature set in stone, exactly as they had intended. They appear securely embedded in their community, wrapped up tightly with their loved ones. Their life seems complete, like a finished work of art.

But it’s only just a trick of perspective, because you can’t see the cracks from so far away. You have no way of knowing how insecure their footing might be, how malleable they really are. How many years of effort might’ve gone into shaping their persona into something acceptable. How many hands it takes just to get them through an ordinary day, and keep them from falling to pieces.

Each of us is only ever a work in progress; we all have weaknesses we’re not sure how to fix. So why does it feel so surprising when we catch a glimpse of vulnerability in others? Why do we keep falling for the same old trick, when each of us spends so much time trying to get away with it ourselves? Who knows why we harbor such public confidence and such private doubts?

Maybe we need to think of others as statues, and ourselves as fragile blobs of clay. Maybe that contradiction is what keeps us moving, wanting to better ourselves, and be more than what we are. Maybe it helps us keep our distance, to avoid too much friction as we brush past one another, trying to ignore how much damage we can do along the way.

Or maybe our secret vulnerability is what draws us together. It gives each of us a primal need that only a friend can satisfy—someone you trust enough to be yourself with, who can help prop you up if needed, or remind you that you’re fine the way you are. And even if you’re not, that’s okay, too. Nothing is set in stone.

Czech socha, statue. Pronounced “soh-khuh.”











Covalent Bond