Series Three: Blog Forty-Seven
“A friend said to me, “Hey you need to grow a pair. Grow a pair, Bro.” It’s when someone calls you weak, but they associate it with a lack of testicles. Which is weird, because testicles are the most sensitive things in the world. If you suddenly just grew a pair, you’d be a lot more vulnerable. If you want to be tough, you should lose a pair. If you want to be real tough, you should grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding.”
― Sheng Wang
It is strange the way we talk about being strong. Hollywood has had such an influence at every age-level of life development about what it means to be strong. Whether it is the special powers of Elsa and Anna in the child’s imagination of Frozen or the legacy of the Iceman in the latest presentation of Top Gun. Strong is always a presentation of outward strength and superiority within the context of pursuit and conquer. Through Hollywood characters you can prevail and dominate that which threatens you and the universe. Any display of weakness fosters disapproval. Failure is always perceived as weak. Demonstration of fear is ridiculed.
In our culture, people cryptically connect strength and weakness to our sexuality. The strength and power of a man is portrayed by how he can please a woman in bed and continue to last throughout the night. The strength of a woman is portrayed as being competent in bed and powerfully in charge because of advanced sexual knowledge and ability to please her man. Every sexual orientation has a presentation of domination that is presented as strength.
When people show weakness, particularly men, sexual anatomy is referenced. “Grow a pair” is the vernacular used by many that suggests an individual doesn’t have the courage to address an issue or take action. When someone appears vulnerable to fear, they are often called a “pussy” referencing the soft and sensitive female sexual organ. Both testicles and vagina are sensitive organs of the body. For men, testicles suggest strength but the vagina is referenced as weakness in terms of describing someone’s fear to act. “Don’t be a pussy” someone might scold another.
Politicians do everything possible to avoid vulnerability. The fear of disapproval in the polls dominates decisions. Most opt to please the polls and not stand for espoused principles.
All said, paradoxically, weakness is the beginning of strength. Ignoring this reality will mire you into the depths and despair of the fearful experience in life you hope to avoid. Virginia Satir once said “life is not the way it is supposed to be. It is the way it is”. The way you cope with it will determine whether you are able to transform weakness into strength.
Sadness and sorrow suck. People do everything possible to avoid this reality. There is no escape from this common thread in life. They are both painful and penetrate to the bone. Actor Keanu Reeves says that “grief changes shape but it never ends”. Coming to terms with the different types of loss in our life is a part of adult living. Some say they can endure almost any loss if they could just know when the pain will stop. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote that “In reality you will grieve forever. You will not get over the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but never the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to”.
It requires great courage (not testicles or vagina) to embrace your own darkest moments so that you can be present for others in their dark moments. In those moments for others, it’s not words that are needed just presence.
Strength and courage come to those who willingly free fall into the depths of human emotions unabashedly when facing the pain of loss. Sadness, grief and loneliness all require this free fall. Unconditional confidence doesn’t come because you are tough or you have such deep faith that God will make it all right. It comes to those who take action on the belief that the only way through a difficult experience is to embrace it. It comes to those who act on the belief that with the help of Higher Power and others in their community that no matter how far down they go, they will rise again. Like poet Maya Angelou wrote “You may shoot me with your words—You may cut me with your eyes, —You may kill me with your hatefulness, —- But still, like air, I’ll rise!” You don’t embrace and go down into raw and difficult emotional experiences because you love the feeling of free fall, you go down because you know it is the only way to rise again. This action is true courage and genuine strength.
Some people as John Prine described in the lyrics of his song “Other Side of Town” are like the clown who puts his make-up on upside down, so he wears a smile even when he wears a frown. They practice performing for others rather than being vulnerable and real with who they really are. They think that strength and courage come with a stoic stance. The idea is to carry the world on your shoulders and don’t let anyone know the pain you have within. Men are told to show machismo. Women are told to quietly endure and stay in their place.
People go deep when they courageously allow sorrow to do its deepest work. Often, we don’t because we fear we will fall apart and not survive the pain that sorrow brings. Yet, whenever someone chooses to embrace their own darkness, shed the mask of machismo or the veil that hides true feelings, and go deep with common shared sorrow, they create the depth of genuine confidence that stands the test of time regardless of the results. In this way, we truly come full circle with sorrow and sadness and learn as Dr. Seuss declared, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” This describes an authentic experience of strength and courage in the presence of human frailty.
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