18 Mar Vulnerability and pinksocks
In February 2019, Jay Gerhart wrote a blog about the connections between pinksocks and improv comedy. Jay pointed out how both improv and pinksocks favor use of “Yes, And . . .;” how both see gifting as core to making meaningful connections; how empathy looms large in both endeavors; and how both call us to “love more, fear less.”
I love improv comedy. There’s a great improv scene in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where I live, and for a hot second about five years ago after getting divorced I thought about taking an improv comedy class. I was an Assistant Professor at the University of Pittsburgh, and the idea that the skills of improv comedy are beneficial for meeting the communication, presentation, and leadership demands of a career in academic medicine was increasingly popular. Plus, having become single for the first time in close to 15 years, I thought taking an improv comedy class would be a fun way to meet cool people.
And this is some of the magic of #pinksocks; it capitalizes on the phenomenon of ingroup favor for good. Click To Tweet
All it took was me going to one Arcade Comedy performance for me to say “hell NO” to my improv class endeavors. It wasn’t because the show wasn’t great – it WAS great – but seeing it drove home the level of vulnerability required to participate in improv comedy. And as a newly single, now part-time-single-mom whose life had been turned upside down, I already had a full plate from the Vulnerability Buffet and was not interested in adding to it, thank you very much.
Jay’s blog reminded me of that experience all these years later. As it turns out, I think it’s vulnerability that improv comedy and pinksocks have in common, and it’s how pinksocks reduces our vulnerability that makes those black mustaches and puzzle pieces on the pink background so important to so many people.
How does pinksocks reduce vulnerability? Here’s where the (highly!) visual cue that pinksocks provides matters quite a bit. We’re living in a world that bombards us with stimuli at unprecedented levels. One of my favorite thinkers and writers, Mickey McManus, wrote a great Forbes piece on this with his colleague Marco Annunziata where they describe the ways our world increasingly puts “cognition itself … under attack.” This, combined with the complexity of decision making in daily life amid the ever-present fear-based messaging that tells us everything most certainly is NOT ok in the world, makes us very susceptible to making quick decisions with as little information as possible to help us feel less vulnerable.
One type of decision making this leads to is ingroup favor and outgroup derogation – something evolutionary psychology would name as an ancient mechanism for quickly deciding who is safe and who is not. The rise of white Nationalism suggests we are, at a global level, succumbing at a disturbing rate to managing our increasing sense of vulnerability by making quick decisions like, “If you don’t look like me, then you are not safe.”
And this is some of the magic of pinksocks; it capitalizes on the phenomenon of ingroup favor for good. When you see someone in pinksocks, it says “You look like me, and you ARE safe,” because if a person is wearing their pinksocks, you can feel confident that they are kind. They will give you a hug. They will help you. They will share space and heartspeak with you. Pinksocks are a signal, a beacon, and a visual cue of safety precisely because they let you know the person wearing them is someone with whom it’s ok to be vulnerable.
Vulnerability shouldn’t be eliminated and it isn’t bad; indeed, it’s what Brené Brown says is “a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.” But it isn’t easy. So I’m hopeful that my pinksocks maybe let others get a tiny break from having to navigate vulnerability in a complex world, and I’m grateful to those who wear them for the break it gives me.