Steel Magnolia

If you live in the South, you know that the magnolias are blooming. Their scent is as gentle and sweet as their petals are big and bold. Holding one, you notice that they are thick, weighty and velvety. It is no surprise that they have symbolized nobility and dignity since ancient times.

Coming of age in the eighties, the mention of a magnolia evoked the term “steel magnolia” and the movie by the same name. The term is used to describe a (usually Southern) woman who exemplifies femininity and uncommon fortitude. The movie was the story of a group of such women and their life-long friendship. The older I get, the more that I have found that MOST women are steel magnolias. Setting gender and region aside for the moment, I think the steel magnolia has a lesson for us all.

The juxtaposition of a steel magnolia aligns quiet perfectly with what is takes to be resilient. It seems counter intuitive, but resilience requires us to be vulnerable. Grit and tenacity will get us far, but it is not until we allow ourselves to be vulnerable can we open ourselves up to trust, connection and belonging. It is not until we allow ourselves to be vulnerable can be be fully seen and live authentically. The magnolia is most beautiful when its bloom is fully open.

“But wait…if I show that I am vulnerable, I am an open target! I would be crazy to show my ‘soft underbelly’!” Here’s my challenge to that. Think about the last time you have witnessed someone allowing themselves to be vulnerable. It might be someone asking for help, admitting a struggle, or showing tenderness. I agree with Brene Brown who said that what we identify as bravery and courage in others, we define as weakness in ourselves. We are much more likely to show others grace that we deny ourselves. When we do that, we remain a tight bud instead of a full bloom. Blooming means accepting that we are vulnerable.

Magnolia bloom from the tree outside my office is a reminder to be vulnerable and open.

So here’s to steel magnolias who are beautiful in their delicate strength.


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