Although I hear constant criticism of social media, I will argue that it also has several benefits. One of its strengths, I believe, is the sudden access to others both nearby and around with the world who embrace beliefs, experiences, opinions, and knowledge different to my own. When I pressed “publish” on my “Monthly Writing Challenge: Strength” I didn’t even guess ripples might ensue. Thankfully they did.
Admittedly during the first few seconds after reading the comment that “This blog is seriously problematic” I experienced a feeling of hurt deep within my heart, and then, the shame deep within my head ensued. Suddenly, as though a stick of dynamite had weaseled its way into my ear canal and detonated, I thought: Stop. Being. So. Egotistical. You don’t know everything. You come from a white, Christian, upper middle class background, dowsed in privilege. You don’t know everything. You need to be open…to listen…to uncover what some of those things that you don’t know are.
So, here is what I originally wrote, interspersed with the enlightening comments of others brave enough to gently correct me.
Quick: answer this question without really thinking about it. Who is stronger: Wonder Woman or Rosa Parks?
Be honest. I won’t hold it against you if you responded with the brandisher of the lasso of truth, of course…the woman with the cone-shaped breasts clad in gold and the star-emblazoned pelvis. I mean, come on, she’s telepathic, can control electricity, and talk to animals, right?
In comparing Wonder Woman to Rosa Parks I didn’t even consider the implications of contrasting a fake personality in a fake world to an actual woman. Holy Crap — on my behalf. Not to mention the ridiculous values thrust at us (better said by Penny Rabiger, as witnessed in the above statement).
I used to think strength played out as brute force. In our culture, where male physical strength is admired and venerated (and yet strong females are shoved by those with penises and bulging biceps under the bus — yes, reference to Rosa Parks/bus intended), anything but pure physical power is often dismissed. We can not forget, or reject, that Rosa Parks’ strength of character, choice, and silent resistance was just that: Strength.
Let me alter that to: straight white male physical strength. We can always investigate the unfair statistics of incarcerated black men if any questions arise.
In nature, strength can be seen in the squat maple with its dappled leaves and branches massive enough to grip old tires with meaty folks solitarily swinging AND it can be seen in the airy willow that arches to the ground during ice storms and snaps back to normalcy once ground ice no longer detains its emerald leaves. We know, some of us from painful firsthand experience, that sea urchins are robust little suckers, their poisonous spikes gorgeously splayed and strong. But blobby, spineless jellyfish, resembling an innocent umbrella you’d long to chill out under when monsoon weather hits, can be even more deadly. Jellyfish — without eyes, ears, nose, heart or brain — are definitely strong. Those emptyish blobs can kill you! You want another example of water-living danger that looks innocent and cute? Think about the fish commonly referred to as the Toothpick Fish. The same length as the diameter of a Canadian quarter (2.5 cm long — yes, I measured…see the things I do for Our Monthly Writing Challenge?), this dreamy water dweller native to the Amazon basin, whose official name is Vandellia Cirrhosa, easily slides into the anus, vagina or penis and starts sucking blood. Not only does this cause serious pain but often the only solution involves amputation. Yikes.
Strength is not merely muscle, power, or the ability to bench press a toddler using only your thumb. There are many traits modern North American society considers weak. Think of how most people react when they see others ask for help? Or compromise (meaning that they didn’t get exactly what they expected/desired)? Or reactions to people who, despite their own selfish desires, help someone, sometimes to the detriment of their career/reputation/etc.? How about when someone says no to their own vices such as booze in a culture that idolizes the wine glass or sugary treats in a world where everyone is expected to shove the weight of a whimpering chihuahua’s worth Oh Henrys down their throat during morning break? And yet these traits, which involve serious humility and boundary setting, are actually blandishments for acts of strength.
Lower head, hide face in palm… Yes, I seriously wrote “modern North American society”. Yikes. What makes “us” modern? Who exactly am I including in that “us”? Do I really believe that we all espouse the same beliefs about strength and weakness as the colonizers who stole land and (please note the sarcasm) “lovingly wrapped” the Indigenous culture in smallpox-saturated blankets or those of us who allow the ongoing genocide by dismissing the fact that over 4,000 Indigenous women have gone missing or been murdered in Canada? Why am I claiming ownership over specific values?
Admittedly I previously viewed my mother in law as feeble. Having been hustled from household to household as a child and then married to the man who impregnated her after a few months of dating (I use that term purposefully because I didn’t see her as actually being more than a body told to stay on her back during the whole process), her lack of involvement in her own choices and life shouted “weak” to me. To me, an independent and unapologetically feminist woman who didn’t ever shush my own opinions and attitudes, even when it may have been beneficial, my mother in law’s quiet, unassuming nature that rarely questioned anything and never seemed to own any part of her own existence, came off as powerless. In reality, what I saw as her weakness was actually her strength. Fully devoted to Christ and his teachings, she spent hours reading the bible and praying for members of her household. There may have been very few, but when she chose a battle worthy of her focus, she said “no” and meant it. When she whimpered-only-in-her-own-head through the trials of her petulant, and what I would call abusive, spouse, she was actually being a silent powerhouse sticking up for her children and their needs. Do I agree with her methods? Maybe not. Do I still think she was merely a weak character floating through life? No. It took strength just for her to survive.
Jesus is one of the ultimate examples of strength. Though Jesus might have resembled The Rock (let’s face it: he was a fisherman and carpenter and those take some serious muscles. See Hector Garcia’s “Jesus Had a Six Pack”) but generally his gentle and humble approach was not what many would have considered at the time to be Strong. Think of Allah, Buddha, Betty Friedan, Laverne Cox, Nelson Mandela, Mary Two-Axe Earley, or Greta Thunberg. None of these individuals were/are considered particularly strong in terms of muscle power and yet have they demonstrated strength and made a difference in our world?
Here’s where my definite ignorance came to light…Thanks to Pran Patel’s considerate comments/corrections I realized how deeply offensive my suggestions were. Comparing Allah and Buddha to humans is absurd. As a Christian would I attribute human characteristics to God, a Spiritual being with no human body? Ludicrously I listed Vishnu and Al-Qawwiy alongside flesh and blood mortals who, though incredible in their own rights, are nowhere even close to deities.
I believe that more focus on mental health has showcased a new and expanded version of what strength is. Riddled with depression and you still managed, somehow, to yank yourself out of bed, if only for three and a half minutes, to hug your teen goodbye before they took themselves to school? That involves more strength — more fortitude — than many of us realize. Hours…days…of being plugged into an IV with chemo drugs parading through your bloodstream and you didn’t once tell the medical staff or your partner/friend to “eff off to Siberia and back…on foot”? That’s grit. Heck, even getting through chemo — with numerous curse words — is a win for strength.
Covid 19 has exposed strength many of us didn’t know played hide and seek deep within our souls. Suddenly alone and in completely new territory we have observed a toughness…a durability…a resilience previously unknown. We each have our own stories.
Why is John Cena, whose muscle-ridden body is hard enough to use as scaffolding deemed stronger than Mother Teresa, whose true love for others was so acute that own feet were mangled as she gave away proper-sized shoes and wore only the leftovers? Why is getting your own way, rather than compromising and forging a new and different way that benefits everyone involved, considered weak? Why is Wonder Woman deemed stronger than Rosa Parks?
I can’t thank the individuals who enlightened me with their feedback. Our strength as humans involves an understanding and love that can only be experienced when we truly listen and openly communicate. Only when we ongoingly attempt to truly understand each other. To be better. To be strong…for one another and because of one another.