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Book Review: The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

June 15, 2016

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You AreThe Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was the focus of the pre-service classes at Unity of New York for the past few months. This book was good enough that I checked it out of the library and read it each week before the class, but it is a lightweight read that seems to show its author constrained by how the book was to be marketed.

As I read the book, I became more and more convinced that, although certainly not perfectly, so much of what Brown was discussing I have already been doing, and it has led to my financial ruin and homelessness. My parents wanted me to major in biology because I did well in biology in high school, in spite of the fact that math was by far my weakest academic subject, and I got only an average score (for 1993) of 490, vs. an above-average verbal score of 620. I ignored the mailings from small, private liberal arts colleges to go to Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, a school that gives a high quality education even if the prestige is not high. I soon found myself failing my highly mathematical biology courses after my first year, such as genetics and microbiology, and doing better than eve and being more excited by my courses in literature in film. I eventually graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English and communication studies with a concentration in film and media, and from there entered a downward spiral of meaningless temp work, extreme resistance from agents and industry professionals to reading my material, and eventually, homelessness. Structural problems in my body started to emerge after I turned eighteen or so that eventually revealed themselves as scoliosis, herniated discs, sciatica, and plantar fasciitis, which have made anything but a desk job unbearably painful, and the callous United States social services system has ruled that being able to do such jobs makes me not disabled by their standards. I have spent four years and counting in the New York City homeless shelter system, with services completely oblivious to the needs of the physically disabled that are couched in stereotypes of mental health and substance abuse that affect only about 20% of New York city’s homeless population.

Brown seems to be entirely aware of the problems, but not willing to place the blame in the appropriate place. Doing so would not get her on Oprah Winfrey Network’s Super Soul Sunday, as you might expect me to say from having concurrently read and recently reviewed Nicole Aschoff‘s The New Prophets of Capital.
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We know how o make good choices with our money. We know how to take care of our emotional needs. We know all this, yet…

We are the most obese, medicated, addicted, and in-debt Americans EVER.

Why? We have more access to information, more books, and more good science–why are we struggling like never before? (36-37)

I believe the correct answer to this is that the capitalist system needs us to be. I think Brown recognizes this, too. She frequently, such as on page 102, uses the term “counterculture” when “anti-capitalist” might serve better.

Her answer, on page 37, is “Because we don’t talk about the things that get in the way of doing what we know is best for us, our children, our families, our organizations, and our communities.” We’ve put the need to make money before all these things, and most of us don’t have methods of making money that give us the other things we need to get from such a copious use of our time.

Most of what Brown tells us we need to let go of our things that are necessary to survive in the capitalist system: being attentive to what others think, striving to be perfect and comparing oneself to others, understanding of hierarchies and power structures, scarcity, the need for certainty (which really drives those on the right, as she does an excellent job detailing), exhaustion, anxiety, “supposed-to,” and being cool and in control. These things all work the gears of the capitalist system and against human needs, as my personal example shows.

Brown’s book is full of great insights and personal anecdotes, but Brown seems too much in a place of safety to go far enough, concentrating more on things like dancing to low-brow music (119) and the idea that shame is the only thing that would make us not do so, which seems overly presumptuous. She also seems unaware of the differences between introversion and shyness throughout the book, which comes out strongest in her section on dancing, and clashes with her stated methodology of Grounded Theory (128).

Overall, I did find the book valuable, or I would not have read the book in addition to attending the classes, but I felt that she was only scratching the surface. Each chapter of the book was only a few pages long, and unlike many of the other books we’ve covered in the pre-service class, there wasn’t much omitted from the book in the classes even though so much of it hit me more powerfully than some of the other books we have use. I would certainly be interested in other books and follow-ups, but the lessons here seemed to be about 60-70% for the absolute beginner at this sort of thing, and having been raised in Unity from the age of 4, and having gone through what I’ve been through, I’ve gotten so jaded that my expectations are set very high when I encounter as many tidbits of wisdom as I got from Dr. Brown. I recommend it with the above-stated reservations.

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