Finding strength is hard at the best of times, but in THESE time, when leaders and leadership seem missing, how do we find our own strength? To find our strength, we have to first understand what strength is, what weakness really is, why we feel we don’t have it right now, and then, obviously, where to look to find strength.
As you might know by now, I am a bit of a nerdy fan boy of the American philosopher and poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson. And one of his quotes is one that has resonated with me a lot this week: We acquire the strength we have overcome.
This week has seen a relaxing of some of the social restrictions in this country when it comes to the Coronavirus pandemic. Life, it seems, is just starting to feel like it’s going to be ‘normal’ again soon. Over the last few months of living in a pretty unprecedented time, with lots of confusion, unknowing, and some fear, to even start to emerge from it now has given a lot of people a new sense of strength.
Compare that to other countries where the virus is getting worse and harder felt if anything, and social order and humanity seems to be sinking rather than rising, in a week where multiple cities in America have been burning through protests related to the killing of another black man by police, but where again, a new strength is being found by people who never wanted to, or thought they would have to, find it.
Emerson meant that whatever we live through, or survive, or rebound from, we grow in strength to the same degree as the struggle we endured. That the pain and worry and lack of calm at times that was associated with the pandemic will result in a growth and finding of strength for us to the same degree. That the strength found in communities fighting for equality and fairness and anti-discrimination will be equal to the pain felt fighting for it.
Not for the first time in my life, I find myself hoping that Ralph was right.
What is strength?
An important step in finding strength is, of course, defining what strength really is.
And there are loads of resources around strength in the context of physical strength and physical power, but relatively few when it comes to emotional or community or spiritual strength. It seems we put a lot more emphasis on our physical power than the power of spirit.
But there is something in the definition of physical strength that is very useful when it comes to finding personal strength. The scientific perspective says that strength is a measure of force production. If you can show strength, then that means you can produce force. When you find or increase strength, then that means you can produce more force than the last time you were tested.
Even though that relates to physical strength and muscular and skeletal power, I think it fits nicely into our own self-development and our spiritual strength too.
Strength vs weakness
So is strength the opposite of weakness, and therefore the absence of it?
Weakness has such strong connotations attached to it. Fearful, small, powerless, pathetic even. But I am weak at times. I have lots of weaknesses. That doesn’t make me small or pathetic though, it just makes me human, perfectly imperfect.
I think we are a mix of strong and weak, not one or the other. We are not all fear and doubt, but we are not all strength and confidence either. I think that’s OK.
Why don’t we feel strong?
Often, we have trouble finding strength, because we are acting as if we already have it. Acting strong is still just acting.
But another issue with feeling a sense of strength is that our idea of what strength looks like, particularly for men in some communities, is so messed up.
If our understanding of strength is dominance over another, dominance in relationship with people, strong and defined physical attributes, money, power, or any other outdated notion of what strength was, then of course a lot of us are not going to feel strong.
But if our understand of strength focuses on our ability to accept or forgive, our ability to find and display our resilience, our empathy, our inclusion, our kindness, then so many more of us can feel so much more strength right now.
A big heart will beat big biceps or big cars or big bank balances every day.
Where can we find strength then?
Strength can be found anywhere and everywhere really. It can be found in an apology, or asking for one. Strength can be found through hardship or abuse or trauma. In fact, the strength that someone gains from adversity is probably the most long-lasting and impressive strength of all.
But it’s also something that we can teach ourselves, and something that we can teach our kids.
If our children, particularly our boys, can see us showing strength through kindness, or through denouncing racism or inequality, or simply by saying sorry (even to them), then they will have a much better chance of finding some of that strength for themselves.
After all, you can’t be what you can’t see, and when our kids can see that, generally, people are good, and that strength doesn’t need to be pinned to how much you can bench press, our communities grow stronger too.
How do we show strength?
So when we find our strength, how do we show it to the world?
We can start by focussing on what we can do, as opposed to getting bogged down in what we can’t.
We can be ourselves, and believe in ourselves.
We can keep moving forward, keep trying to be the best version of ourselves, every day.
We can say no, and try to manage our co-dependence so that we are nobody’s doormat, and so that we don’t try to make anyone else ours.
We can ask for help, admit we are wrong, be vulnerable, be real, be authentic. As Ernest Hemingway said, ‘The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places’. Don’t be afraid of being the one who might have a break or two, but be a lot stronger for it.
And we can love, big. I reckon it’s in kindness and love that we find our greatest strength, something the world could do with a lot of right now.
Header Image credit: Joshua Earle
The biggest myth about vulnerability is that it’s weakness.
The biggest myth about vulnerability is that it’s weakness.