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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

More Maxim Messing

That which does not kill us makes us stronger”: Friedrich Nietzsche

Was Nietzsche right? When someone survives trauma, does it automatically follow they are stronger having had that experience?

My life has been thankfully free of abuse and major trauma. Also, compared to many people I've known, the level of dysfunction in my family of origin has been minimal. Still, even if my depths didn't reach as low as others I've known, they felt pretty bad. Obviously, I survived. Does my survival support Nietzsche's claim? I'm no longer sure it does.

Over the last several years, some of the memoirs of loss I've read have made me very suspicious of this oft-quoted maxim. Is its enduring popularity perhaps tied to the stoic ring it has? Hearing someone telling a person who is in grief to "be strong" often annoys me. Is there something wrong with saying instead "be sad"? Or, if "be strong" is the best you can do, keeping quiet? 


  1. For me, the question is not whether or not tragedy makes us stronger, but whether or not it holds the monopoly on making us stronger. I believe that any event, tragic or otherwise, that causes us to stretch outside our comfort zone into a different person, can make us stronger, or wear us down. I have had my share of trauma, however it was not the trauma, but the work done to overcome its damage, that made me a different person, perhaps stronger, perhaps just changed, but not weaker...because of the work I did, not the trauma itself.

    I have never liked this saying for another reason involving a more adolescent argument. I hesitate to share it here, but I figure I took so long to respond to this post that you will likely be its only reader, and you might get a kick out of it. Everyday things happen that do not kill us. These everyday events cannot possibly all make us stronger. It is only in our reaction to events, our desire to grow from even the mundane, that we can become a stronger person.

    Finally, I am an advocate of allowing people to emote as they need to do. Being strong in the face of grief is misdirected advice. Grief allows us to appropriately express our pain and sadness. This is good! This is part of life and necessary for the very growth in strength we wish to achieve. Plowing through grief with a stoic smile and perceived lack of sadness negates the path toward the very increase of strength this maxim describes.

    1. d; Your comments are taking me to another level in my own thinking - thanks for that. Here, my takeaway comes from your third paragraph where in one sentence you de-construct how "being strong" in grief is actually the antithesis of Nietzche's maxim. Wow.