Sunday, March 17, 2013

Homespun Propaganda

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Friedrich Nietzsche

This is one of those sayings. It is tossed around in any situation in which we face a challenge, whether that be some kind of made up challenge (a weekend “boot camp”, a TV weight loss program, or any other TV “challenge”), or real life struggles. Perhaps even worse, it is often used in the context of challenges that God, via Life, has supposedly laid upon us. Good, down to earth, homespun wisdom, right? Sound theology, correct? No! There are two very fundamental things wrong with it.

Firstly, the last thing I want to hear when I am facing a potentially life threatening challenge is that what won’t kill me will make me stronger! The point is, it just bloody well might kill me! So, dead or stronger, dead or stronger. Hmmmm. Here’s an idea. How about I forego your silly challenge, God, Life, Fate, NBC – whoever sent it to me – in favour of staying alive. I can live with not being stronger; I cannot live with being... well, dead!

The second thing wrong with this statement is this – and I think you’ll agree that this is crucial to the whole argument: something that does not kill me can sometimes (and, perhaps more often than not, does) make me weaker! I was run over by a car, my pelvis was crushed. I have to spend six weeks in plaster, in bed. Am I stronger at the end of this process? I somehow don’t think so. Oh, wait a minute. You mean that I am emotionally stronger! Well, no, actually. Now I am terrified of crossing the road, and I break out in a sweat when I see a nurse. I am, as they also say, “scarred for life”.

Am I stronger because my uncle abused me when I was a child? Because I was bullied in the playground? Because my parents were killed in an accident when I was five? Because I was captured and held hostage by terrorists? Because I did two tours of duty in Iraq? Probably not, actually. But, of course, there is no way of ever knowing, is there. We can’t go back and try life again without these things happening to us, can we.

I suppose this saying is really a coping mechanism, although it sometimes sounds like a sales pitch for suffering and hardship. We like to think that things happen to us for a reason, although they probably don’t. We can, of course, take the opportunities that life offers in order to learn and grow as people. One of the things we might well learn from pain, suffering and hardship is that “what does not kill us also does not necessarily make us stronger”. This is a useful thing to learn. It also helps those of us who perhaps don’t feel stronger for having battled adversity for years on end, not to feel, in addition, guilty: that we have somehow failed the challenge. What have I been doing wrong, that I am not stronger now? Nothing, actually.

This is just one of those sayings, that is more like propaganda than wisdom.

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