9.03.2008

Dumb Things People Say 2: “What Doesn’t Kill Us Makes Us Stronger”

It’s about time that I wrote another entry for this series.

Today’s Dumb Thing, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger,” is somewhat special in that it has a specific origin. It was the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who first made this robust claim, which I guess shouldn’t be too surprising, since he made some other claims which haven’t exactly panned out either (consider that whole “God is dead” idea for example).

Nevertheless, in the years since Nietzsche (whose name is incredibly difficult to spell) first penned the words countless people have seized upon them as an expression of truth and source of inspiration to get them and their loved ones through difficult times.

Of course, the words weren’t meant in a physical sense, and that’s a good thing—a person who had been crippled by polio could hardly claim to be physically stronger from the experience—but I don’t think it really holds up emotionally as well.

Oh, I think it’s certainly true that we all from time to time get through difficult episodes which ultimately make us stronger and better people, but it’s also true that people suffer through certain traumatic events that leave them scarred for life—they never recover the “strength” they once had.

I’m not much of a philosopher, but basically, I think people have a “Hardship Ceiling,” or a certain point beyond which they cannot deal with more, and from which they cannot recover.

If you have never experienced a wound that you couldn’t just shrug off and classify as “strength-enhancing,” be thankful. Just don’t assume that such wounds don’t exist.

11 comments:

Alex 9/5/08, 12:10 AM  

Definitely laughed out loud at the end of the first paragraph.

I never knew that phrase was Nietzsche's. I had always imagined it coming from some super-idealistic soccer mom, though whatever the origin, I agree that it hardly holds up. I'm totally into optimism, but we should acknowledge that we all will break. When we do, we can be repaired not by idealism, but by God.

Luke 9/5/08, 9:42 AM  

Alex,

I didn't know it was from Nietzsche either until I looked it up while writing this, but I guess that helps to explain why so many people just accept it without thinking about it.

I really liked your last two sentences.

Jared Dockery 9/5/08, 11:48 AM  

I think you will find it incredibly interesting to read Nietzsche's quote (that "God is dead") in context:

http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/nietzsche-madman.html

His point is not really that God was dead, but that belief in God had died — an observation that had a certain amount of truth to it, given the body blow that faith had suffered during the Victorian era thanks to Darwin.

What is most interesting is that Nietzsche, on the surface at least, seems to be bummed out about this turn of events:

"God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, the murderer of all murderers, comfort ourselves?"

It may interest you further to know that the person who tipped me off to this was John Weaver, Mary Beth's older brother. I remember in high school he complained that Nietzsche was getting a bum wrap. But it wasn't till I was in grad school that I read Nietzsche's words for myself.

Luke 9/5/08, 12:41 PM  

Jared,

While I am no expert on Nietzsche, I had read the quote in context and understood his point (or at least, I think I do).

While there may have been some truth behind the idea, in my post, I referred to it as a claim that "hasn’t exactly panned out".

I think that’s accurate, since, in one sense or another (rapid growth of Islam, spread of Christianity in places like Africa and China), there are more God-believers today than there were in Nietzsche's time or any other time.

And as far as whether or not ol' Friedrich was bummed about humanity's killing of God, he might have been, but if he was, considering his complete rejection of Christian morality (or slave morality as he termed it), I'm thinking his idea of God wasn't the same as yours or mine.

All that to say:

Nietzsche's "God is dead" quote might often be misunderstood, but if you look at some of the stuff he actually did say, I think, with all due respect to John Weaver, he deserves the bad rap that he gets.

Jared Dockery 9/5/08, 1:35 PM  

Well said. Don't get me wrong: I don't think Nietzsche believed in God as a being, but only as an idea (like my conception of Santa Claus.) The words of his madman on the surface seem to express remorse that the idea was in decline, but I concede it also could be back-handed exultation.

I suppose my real point is that Nietzsche's statement is too often, and too easily, used as a straw man. I don't think he meant by it what most preachers seem to think he meant by it when they attack it.

I did not know that you had seen the text. My apologies for being presumptive. Oh, and I misspelled bum rap as bum "wrap" in my last comment. My apologies for that, too.

Luke 9/5/08, 2:13 PM  

Jared,

"I suppose my real point is that Nietzsche's statement is too often, and too easily, used as a straw man. I don't think he meant by it what most preachers seem to think he meant by it when they attack it."

I agree with that, and from the slight mention I gave it in the original post, there would be no way to tell that I wasn't making the same mistake, so no worries.

Glowmay 9/27/08, 11:26 AM  

I quite like this 'series' of yours.

But you should never say that phrase at the end of the first paragraph.

So have you given up on WordPress? I'm having the same problem as well.

Luke 9/27/08, 12:23 PM  

Glowmay,

Thanks. And I agree, that's why I was making fun of Nietzsche for saying it in the first place.

I haven't decided yet about Wordpress…I'm hoping to get some feedback in the Help forums.

Glowmay 9/27/08, 1:38 PM  

Hm. I contacted Support. D'you know what they said? "I'm sorry for the delays on problems with the Blogger import tool. We are looking into some problems with it and will let you know as soon as we can."

It's the pages I like about Wordpress...

Luke 9/27/08, 5:00 PM  

Glowmay,

Ha! I just heard back from them and that's what they told me too.

Oh well, I think for now I'll just stick with Blogger and when (if?) they fix the problem in the future, I'll re-evaluate.

It's the pages feature that intrigues me as well.

Glowmay 10/3/08, 5:25 PM  

You know, if you got a navigational template for BlogSkins or whatever you'd be able to have things like pages, but not quite. I'm giving it a go. It's really rather fascinating.

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