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December 14, 2019 / Congau

What Doesn’t Kill You

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” This Nietzschean dictum is as obvious as it is reprehensible. Sure, if you get beaten many times, you will get somewhat used to it and it may not hurt as much as it used to.  It may enable you to endure suffering of different sorts, and trivialities are made negligible. But so what?

A life full of tragedies remains tragic. Strength is useful for carrying heavy burdens, and burdens builds strength for more burdens. Hardship is useful for more hardship and opens an endless circle of increasing misery. Learning to suffer to tolerate more suffering isn’t a very promising prospect.

Whatever the masochistically inclined martyrs want to tell you, suffering can never be a goal. It may certainly be worthwhile to go through hardship to reach something good, but that final good must at least contain more happiness than pain.

Why would you want to get stronger if nothing good comes from your strength?

But, says the tragic poet, behold all the wonderful art that is born out of human suffering. Contemplate the great beauty that has grown from misery. What would Shakespeare have done if he hadn’t seen the anguish of his day? What kind of music would a happy Beethoven make?

Right, look at those wonders. What is Hamlet and the Fifth Symphony for us? Is it not a pleasure to witness their performance? Is it not a happiness? Beethoven didn’t suffer in vain.

The strength to create great art may come to a few if it doesn’t kill them. The strength of fresh insight may come to you if you survive. But strength for its own sake is weakness; it carries nothing valuable.

What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker, unless it gives you strength for happiness. That sometimes happens, but only sometimes.

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