“What doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.” I think Nietzsche meant well, but this point is incomplete. Believing in his logic, I feel, helps us to justify our suffering, but to fully accept his quote is to use suffering as a crutch to comfort us into a make-believe that we are better people for our pain. The reality is that every human being on this planet is expected to tolerate the pain! Everyone dies a little (or a lot) every single day, and I cannot in good conscience believe that we all become much, much stronger every day simply from the sustainment of the suffering involved in this existence. I do not mean to be uselessly argumentative, but I have a conflict with the quote’s logic. Things that don’t kill me can make me understand pain in a more intimate way, but in order to become stronger, I need action, not just a tolerance of punishment. Therefore, what doesn’t kill me and what does drive me to action, that makes me stronger.
I am now recuperating from a broken leg, and of course I had to endure the pain, but it was very hard to take action when I was lying down all the time. Lying down tries to kill the spirit. Thinking AND not wanting to think, that is the worst torture. At best from this ordeal, I learned patience. But being totally objective, I did not become stronger. I broke my momentum. I lay down. I stopped reading. I stopped writing. I did not even want to sleep. I continued to raise my family, and my children did become stronger because they had to action and take care of the house and even tuck me in 🙂 but this break now has tried to make me indifferent and the momentum and kinetic energy I had is in limbo, and if allowed to, it will certainly die. Sure, I have done some readings and had some insightful conversations and interactions, and I continue with my positive spirit because I truly believe in it. But if I simply kept these ideas in my mind and I stopped right now at this moment, how, how would we ever measure whether I became stronger or not? What doesn’t kill me will have killed me worse than a literal killing because I will be dead even though I am alive.
Physical pain, like a broken bone’s physical pain, does make the bone eventually stronger than the original unbroken bone and nothing needed to be done consciously for that to happen. Psychological pain, and I know we can all appreciate that type of pain, may not necessarily make a person stronger. For one, many people do not resist the pain; they numb it with things such as drugs, the media, hedonism, or the blaming of others. Some people wallow in the pain and then they become depressed. Both of the former do not lead to what we usually consider as strength. People end up transferring that painful energy into more pain or into numbness, which does not do them any good. Perhaps, then, the best we can hope for is a transferring of pain. NOW, if the transference is one where there is a goal objective, then if one is motivated, there can be a good chance that one can prove the pain became strength. For example, one who is hurt then decides to run a marathon in order to transfer the pain and become stronger. Here, the person does actually build her cardiovascular strength and gains a spiritual confidence as well. The other way to reach a certain strength is from revenge or to become strong out of spite. Dostoevsky wrote much about this, and although politically or philosophically skewed, there is a power when one is obsessed with doing things out of hateful pain. People become billionaires to transfer their humiliation 🙂
The point I am making here is that active engagement with the pain, not simply passive sustainment of the suffering, is required in order to become stronger in any objectively meaningful way. For me, then, this recent disgust I felt within myself for being disabled and uncommitted to work, this is now turning into an appreciation for my body and my goals. I am behind. Let me accept that and be provoked to now run faster! Note that it will take long sprints to catch up to where I should have been now three months ago, and then and only then will I simply be at an equivalent point to where I was already. In order to pass myself and become “stronger,” I will have to spur myself in some new, imaginative, courageous manner. Therefore, please allow me to revise: What doesn’t kill me, either kills me, numbs me, or inspires me. It is my active engagement with the pain that makes its effects meaningful.