We’ve grown conditioned to accept very narrowly-defined notions of strength and weakness. Strength is often stereotypically perceived as being intense, forceful and steadfast. Weakness is viewed as gentleness, meekness and smallness. These mythical visions of strength and weakness, while capable of engaging our deepest primitive instincts in art, films and literature, are merely the tip of the iceberg. We should dig a bit deeper to understand the absolute and relative meanings of these concepts.
This begins with a realignment of values. Typically, we hold ourselves to predetermined standards of strength and weakness. We judge ourselves against these criteria, often hyperbolically. The depressed person views himself as weak. The macho playboy views himself as strong. But perhaps the depressed person finds deep creative inspiration and psychological acuity in the pits of their depression. And maybe the lothario has mommy problems and chases women out of a deep sense of fear or inadequacy. All it takes is digging even just one layer deeper to see that the assumptions we hold about ourselves and others are often shallow and false.
Let’s keep digging further, though. One layer isn’t enough; we’re still making assumptions, albeit theoretically. What if we can appreciate popular notions of strength and weakness for their entertainment value but also reevaluate our own strengths and weaknesses in a relative sense as a spiritual practice? By this I mean taking inventory of your deepest knowledge of yourself. This might take some reflection. Maybe you’ll need to ask others to be perfectly honest with you about your own qualities. What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? Each person has objective strengths and weaknesses. Most of us avoid acknowledging either for fear of becoming too proud or, conversely, recognizing unexpected limitations. But in recognizing your limitations, you enable your deepest strengths. In recognizing your deepest strengths, your limitations become empowering rather than burdensome.
Abstract values are easy to latch onto when we refuse to investigate the self. One says to oneself, “I am strong,” because one is a man, woman, American, European, Catholic, Atheist, Buddhist, professional chef, or competitive badminton player, and one associates that label with strength. The problem is that in associating strength with things outside the self, we are not exhibiting strength at all. To use something outside yourself a proxy for your own objective value is an objective weakness.
It’s the difference between an actor and the real thing. You’re not gonna ask the guy playing a cardiologist in a Broadway show to do your heart surgery, even if he did go to Juilliard. The pasty overweight debt-laden college student who shares in their online profile that they are a “Genderqueer Marxist Revolutionary Punk” and the pasty overweight debt-laden college student who’s a self-proclaimed “Alt-Right Traditionalist American Patriot” are, objectively, the same person. Their intrinsic value to the world is negated by their association with what is not fundamentally about them. When we take credit for ideas that aren’t ours, we get lazy. Or maybe we use the act of taking credit as an alibi for our pre-existent laziness. Regardless, there’s a reason people so prone to such labels flock to fringe communities on the internet.
The ultimate value I’m espousing here is self-honesty. To be truly honest with yourself about yourself is to recognize, with total confidence, your strengths and weaknesses. If you can cultivate this understanding (and it may take time), you will slowly orient yourself towards your natural path rather than struggling to fit in places where you don’t belong.
When you lie to yourself, you surround yourself with people who affirm you for what you think you are or want to be, but aren’t actually, and so you develop a delusional concept of identity. You participate in activities not intended for you, judge others by strange contrived criteria, and wonder why you feel unfulfilled and confused. Einstein famously said, “…if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
The most difficult part is making peace with your fundamental strengths and weaknesses. When you develop delusional identities, you start to think you’re something other than what you are, and your true strengths and weaknesses repulse you. This is the ultimate sacrifice of lying to yourself: not knowing what you actually want. Freedom comes when you accept who you are and work with your natural balance rather than fighting it, or worse, putting on a mask.
Imagine again the actor playing the heart surgeon; one day he’s played his role for so long that he has a mental break and convinces himself he’s actually a heart surgeon. He waltzes into the hospital with his scrubs on, washes his hands, and bursts through the doors of the OR, ready to perform his civil calling. Then it hits him— he has no clue how to use any of the goddamn tools. The equipment is alien to him. He might as well be on a UFO.
This is a stupid example but it’s how many of us approach life in modern times. We try on so many different hats over the years that we start to forget we have a head. And then we make crucially deleterious decisions that have the potential to negatively weigh on the rest of our lives.
Meditate, keep a journal, and ask yourself a lot of questions. How are you lying to yourself? Who are you pretending to be? What are your true strengths and weaknesses? Get to the bottom of it and keep digging if you can. To uncover these truths about yourself is the beginning of a life of freedom, balance and genuine opportunity, rather than struggle and confusion.
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