Few things are more touching than when a person momentarily drops all their guards and social defenses and stands before us plainly vulnerable. It is easy to lash out against a social mask or a boundary a person has put up, but pure vulnerability disarms us in a way that a show of force never could.
The disarming power of vulnerability is poignantly and movingly evident in the end of Homer’s Iliad. The glorious King of the mightiest city in the world comes to the tent of the man who killed his son dressed in the cloak of a beggar. All of his kingly fronts are down. He is simply a vulnerable man relating to a man, Achilles, who is just as aware of his own vulnerability, for his mother, Thetis, has reminded him that if he pursues glory (kleos) in the Trojan War, he will surely die.
With tears streaming down his face, Priam kisses the hands of Achilles, and in a powerful and memorable quote, says the touching words “I have endured to do what no other man in the world has ever done, to kiss the hands of the man who slew my son.” He lays himself fully vulnerable before Achilles, and great Achilles, fierce demi-god and slayer of countless men breaks down and weeps. No sharpened weapon could disarm the mighty Achilles; only the display of a King’s true sorrow and vulnerability held that power.
It is a power that disarms us all and which we have known time and time again when we held a vulnerable, crying human being in our arms. In such situations, the most articulate people in the world suddenly find themselves with nothing to say.