Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution, by Brené Brown, New York, NY: Spiegel & Grau, ISBN: 978-0812995824, 2015, 336 pages, $35.
Every social worker should know Brené Brown’s work; she is one of the best public representatives of our profession to the broader culture. Through her writings and public presentations (including TED talks), she is letting the world know that social work is an essential profession—particularly in this era. Her audience is diverse, broad, and growing. From her appearances on Oprah Winfrey’s shows, to her presentations at Fortune 500 companies, to her facilitation of parent and teacher workshops, she represents social work!
She may not always explicitly say: “I’m using social work skills, language, values, and principles here,” but she consistently conveys SOCIAL WORK at its finest. And, she prominently displays her credentials of Ph.D. and LMSW. Brown teaches in the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. Likewise, she honors her social work heritage in her book through acknowledging key social workers who have impacted her work.
In addition to her TED talks and social/public media outlets, Brené has four books. (Yes, I call her “Brené.”) After coming to know her works, you, too, will feel like you are on a first name basis with this social work colleague and kindred spirit. This review will focus on her most recent book, Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution.
As I read the book, I realized every page is packed with social work concepts and connotations. As a dedicated social worker and engaged human being, I resonated so much with her writing that I found myself underlining every sentence. So, as a way to organize my thoughts, I began to jot down key terms that connected with social work. This process formed a word cloud that I share here. I invite you to consider these words. If you see terms that resonate with you, then, go get her books and check out her presentations.
Rising Strong Word Cloud
Rising Strong Word Cloud by Erlene Grise-Owens.
In Rising Strong, Brené builds on her previous works, which I recommend. The theme of all of her work is what she calls “whole-hearted” living, which she articulates as: “engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness…cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to…[know that] I am enough…I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but…[also] I am brave and worthy of love and belonging” (p. xix). Brené emphasizes that whole-hearted living does not exclude heartaches, failures, and disappointments. Rather, it embraces and transforms those—which allows us to more fully experience joy, love, and courage. Whole-hearted living requires “Rising Strong.”
Her most recent work develops the Rising Strong phases: The Reckoning, The Rumble, and The Revolution. Through stories (hers and others), she draws universal applications to illustrate these phases. The Reckoning involves “choosing to write our own story,” which means “getting uncomfortable; it’s choosing courage over comfort” (p. 45). The Rumble involves “owning” our story through “rumbling” with “boundaries, shame, blame, resentment, heartbreak, generosity, and forgiveness” (p. 78). Through rumbling, “wholeheartedness is cultivated and change begins” (p. 79). Authentic and integrated engagement with the Rumble and Reckoning will lead to The Revolution. That is, “…deep, tumultuous, groundbreaking, not-turning-back-transformation. The process may be a series of incremental changes, but when the process becomes a practice—a way of engaging with the world—… it ignites revolutionary changes. It changes us and it changes the people around us” (p. 253).
A defining characteristic of Brené’s work is her ability to convey a hallmark of social work: a systems approach—that is, similar principles can be used to affect change. Brené’s audience and approach fluidly encompasses parents and leaders, personal relationships and professional roles, large systems, and individual processes. As she notes, “Rising strong is the same process whether you’re navigating personal or professional struggles” (p. 7).
Similarly, as a grounded theory researcher, Brené takes a core social work approach by listening to people’s stories. She writes: “We’re wired for stories…we feel most alive when we’re connecting with others and being brave with our stories” (p. 6). In an accessible and insightful fashion, she uses evidence-based research to inform everyday living in profound ways. In other words, like all good social workers, she honors both the story of humanity (macro and meta) AND human stories (micro and mezzo) as the integrated mind-body-spirit of our work.
Brené has done extensive research, which she integrates throughout the book, along with other sources. She asserts, “I now find knowledge and truth in a full range of sources…scholars and singer-songwriters…research and movies…” (p. xiv). She uses a range and depth of personal/relational and professional/systemic stories. She is a gifted researcher who values “evidence” through processes. And, she is a gifted story-teller who recognizes the essence of humanity. This ability to access many “ways of knowing” (p. xii) the world and human experience—and distilling those into universal stories—is perhaps the main reason her work resonates in such meaningful ways. That is the heart of good social work, as well.
Brené displays humble humor, grounded practice, brave authenticity, and accessible intelligence. She is the epitome of excellent social work. Read her; listen to her; emulate her. Our profession—and broader world—is the better for “whole-hearted” rising strong.
Reviewed by Erlene Grise-Owens, Ed.D., LCSW, LMFT, MRE, professor, School of Social Work, Spalding University.