When you look up the word strong in the thesaurus you find words like bold, hard, forceful, tough, determined, rugged. We have different images that come to mind, there are the traditional archetypes – but I think it is important to think about strength broadly and the wide range of ways in which we can be strong.
Being Soft & Strong
Have you ever felt like you wanted to be something, or people wanted you to be something, and it was just now true to you? There is a Zooey Deschanel quote I love where she says
“Being tender and open is beautiful. As a woman, I feel continually shhh’ed. Too sensitive. Too mushy. Too wishy washy. Blah blah. Don’t let someone steal your tenderness. Don’t allow the coldness and fear of others tarnish your perfectly vulnerable beating heart. Nothing is more powerful than allowing yourself to truly be affected by things. Whether it’s a song, a stranger, a mountain, a rain drop, a tea kettle, an article, a sentence, a footstep, feel it all – look around you.”
I think it takes strength to be vulnerable, to be open to the world the way Deschanel describes and I think it’s a beautiful way to live. Sometimes I feel the way she describes in the quote – people wanting you to be tougher, colder, or edgy. But I know being true to myself means being soft and loving and looking for the best in people, the things that people sometimes call weak are actually beautiful qualities to posses.
In the quote above Deschanel talks about allowing yourself to be affected by things and this is another important point I’ve been thinking about lately. It’s sometimes easier to feel nothing than to feel hard things. But the easy way out is generally speaking not the best. In a class about Trauma and Healing I took last year we talked about how people use different things to cope with stress, but if it gets out of hand we deal with the problem of addiction to escape hard feelings.
Brené Brown talks about numbing in her talk The Price of Invulnerability, about how our society has the most addicted, overweight, indebt adult cohort in history. Why? Because it’s easier to indulge in unhealthy habits than it is to face hard feelings.
And on some level its okay, if you’ve had a brutal day and you need to decompress or get your mind off things thats normal. But avoiding feelings is unhealthy. When we talk about feelings, emotional intelligence, all those good things, I am often aware of the people who think it’s silly, or not that important. I’ve had my share of people tell me going to school and learning to talk about feelings and conflict is “cute”. What if we all thought about how allowing yourself to feel your feelings is hard, facing things you don’t want to takes strength, and it’s not “cute” or “weak” to be emotional.
New Definitions of Strength
I was talking on the phone the other day with my dear friend Clarice, and she told me she was proud of me for being brave and strong because of my kindness. Now kindness isn’t always perceived as strong, but I was so grateful for her words and I do think we can learn to define these “softer” or “warmer” qualities as strong too.
Last year I heard a sermon that suggested that the definition of love from 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8, the one you’ve probably heard read at weddings, could be a character description of what we should strive for. Trying to be patient, kind, humble, not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, trusting, and hopeful (to list a few). I love the idea that we could try to encapsulate love, that we could use all our energy and our actions to love others.
Maybe leaning into pain, being enthusiastic or hopeful, forgiving others, being vulnerable and opening up to things that might hurt are all things that can be re-defined as strong. Maybe patience, kindness, humility, and letting go of grudges and – things that aren’t traditionally what we think of as strong – can be what we strive for.
Today I’ll leave you with this: it’s okay to feel emotional, it’s okay to talk about your feelings and be open, and you don’t have to feel weak. The qualities that people are sometimes teased for, maybe called “soft”, are symptoms of a healthy person. So if you’re feeling weak, or you’re not as tough as people would like you to be, stay true to yourself and know that you’re able to redefine strength by being warm and vulnerable.