The Flag on my Front Porch, and the Currency of Vulnerability

Author’s Note: I wrote this piece nearly two years ago, on September 11th, 2020, and then reposted it again in September 2021. And based on the number of emails and comments I received both times, it was clear that it resonated loudly with many. And everyone who knows me, knows I love meaningful traditions. This post has started to become a bit of a tradition for us. So I share it with you again now. Be safe, everyone.

— Dean

I love the quiet of the early mornings. One of my favorite things to do is wake up early, pour a cup of hot coffee, sit in a rocking chair on our front porch and just listen to the silence. I start my day that way as often as possible. It centers me. And it is even more powerful on important days and anniversaries like today, September 11th.

And so a few minutes ago, I poured my coffee, and headed to the porch. As I was opening my front door, I was surprised to see two people on my front steps, practically standing on our porch, looking closely and intently at the flag that is hanging in front of our house. Our neighbors and friends know that we always have a flag hanging. Usually it is a standard issue American flag. But we have other special flags that are flown from time to time, as well. In early September every year, we fly a flag that honors the memory of of those who died on September 11, 2001. And if you look closely at the picture of this flag above (the picture is rotated so that the names are easier for you to read), you will notice that the red and blue stripes are formed from names… every name of the people who died in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on that awful day. What a terrible day that was, for so many people. Each year, this is our family’s way of honoring and remembering them.

So I opened my door and said “can I help you?” to the couple on my front steps. I startled them. They began quickly backpedaling towards the street, almost tripping down the front steps in the process. I had clearly startled them out of deep thought, they apologized profusely, and I could tell immediately that they were crying. Eventually they were able to get out the words to explain to me that they had heard about our flag from a friend. They had come by our house this morning, on September 11th, to see the flag… and to look for the name of their grandson.

They were very emotional. And immediately so was I. Realizing the private moment that had been interrupted, I desperately tried to gain my composure, and told them they were welcome to stay as long as they wanted. I gently closed the door, and left them to their moment of early morning silence, with our flag, on our porch and their memories of their grandson. I didn’t ask any other questions. I didn’t even ask their names. The most important thing was that they have their moment, and I was happy to lend them my front porch for as long as they needed.


We recently recorded the latest episode of our podcast, The Message Makeover (which can be heard here). And our guest was a dear friend of mine and advisor to The Latimer Group, Phil Bonanno. I won’t steal too much thunder from our wonderful interview with Phil, other than to share this phrase that he gave us… “The currency of the times is vulnerability.”

Phil shared this idea that one of the few real positives of the pandemic has been the fact that so many people have let down their defenses, and have been willing to share their feelings of vulnerability with others. So many things have been torn down since our world changed in the middle of March 2020… including, for many people, an aura of invincibility. Nearly everyone I know admits to feeling a lot more vulnerable than they did in February 2020. (Kind of like how we all felt on September 12th, 2001 by the way). It has been scary for all of us. But, when we choose to share our feelings with others, and admit to those feelings of vulnerability, it can be so empowering.

Some of the most powerful moments I have had in our workshops occur when I admit to the participants the level of anxiety I feel about speaking in public. And every time I admit to having those feelings, my admission of vulnerability empowers them to be more comfortable in their own anxiety. The conversation almost always changes immediately, and it allows us to have a real and open conversation about how to cope with that anxiety. Admissions of vulnerability bring us closer together, create human connection, and make communication so much easier.

Anyway… I had an incredibly powerful moment of vulnerability on my front porch this morning, with an older couple who came to my house on the morning of September 11th, to look at my family’s flag, and find the name of their grandson. And so, I share this story, and Phil’s wonderful concept on vulnerability, with you.

May the victims of September 11th, including this couple’s grandson, rest in peace. May we never forget them. And when our current health crisis is over, whenever that happens, may we all never forget how powerful the currency of vulnerability really is.

Never forget.

Does your team:
– Take too long to make decision?
– Fail to ask for what it wants or needs from you?
– Make things too complicated?
– Deliver unconvincing or disorganized presentations?
– Have new hires who are unprepared to communicate in the workplace?

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Dean Brenner

A book about change

The Latimer Group’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.