Saturday, February 2, 2008

so what is strength, anyway

To which I can only supply my own definition. I reserve the right to be wrong or to have a definition which is not useful to anyone else. Who knows?

Strength is different between men and women. In this culture, at least in my observation, women have a far greater opportunity to be strong because they are asked to bear more. And by asked, I mean expected.

This does pertain to childbearing; taking sole responsibility for the lives, health and mental wellbeing of another human being (or three) is an act which will test you and provide you with a lot of opportunity to be strong or not, sometimes a lot of both.

This pertains to sexism. Bearing up everyday when faced with overwhelming pressure to fail or to prove insufficient, as well as to conform to stereotypes which make you out to be frail and twist the words out of your mouth when you speak is also a great opportunity to be strong. Or not, for which I have no judgment, because people have good and bad days, months and years.

I suppose at this point I should say that I am a bit narcissistic, not in that I am incapable of empathy (I am often moved to empathy and sympathy with people); but in that I can't do anything about the way you're going to act except for to talk to you, avoid you, or otherwise work from the outside to deal with you, so I concern myself not with whether or not I am being acceptable (because I often cannot manage to be acceptable and feel as if I am consistent with my principals, though I will often try to be reasonable because I am not alone on the planet), but with whether I think I am doing the right thing, while watching to see what effects it has on the people around me. My job, however, other than my responsibilities toward my children and loved ones, is to make myself a better person, a project which takes up all my spare time. I am not a nice person on the inside, and the legacy of my childhood has been a lifetime of bad habits and detritus to deal with.

To give you an example, I believe that I engage in charitable or kind acts because I want to. I hope and intend for them to have a good reaction-- I want to help-- but sometimes I can't be sure that I actually helped (for instance, donations) or that the person who I give to is being helped. Even though I don't know what effects my actions have, though I assume the effect is good, I still feel as if I ought to be aware of my own enjoyment in it. It doesn't stop it from being a good thing to do, I just witness my own selfish pleasure in it.

In other words, I'm a skeptic of myself, something I think is a healthy habit, considering some of the baggage I'm hauling. I don't spend a lot of time hating myself, nor thinking about my worst qualities (the last year excepted, but there are some extenuating circumstances), but I am skeptical of my own motivations.

What does this have to do with strength? Realism. Popularly, strength is a matter of being some kind of rock, which this will sometimes sound like but I assure you, this has more to do with having no safety net than it does the self-aggrandizing search for ways to prove myself more macho than. I'm not sure you can be a skeptic of yourself without wondering how much you might have contributed to the bad situations which you have encountered, but sometimes you don't know until it's time to mop up the mess you already made.

I've always hated the idea that to be strong is to never need help or to otherwise be inhuman. No matter how strong, alpha or otherwise aggressive you may be, there comes a point when, if nothing else, your body won't let you take it anymore. Christmas before last was that point for me; it resulted in me collapsing (not fainting, but literally being unable to move from muscle exhaustion; my body said 'enough of that shit' and cut my puppet strings) and requiring three days in bed and an ER visit I should have skipped (though the CAT scan pics were fascinating. My brain is an interesting place when I'm trying very hard not to be claustrophobic in the thumping, screeching, over-sized cocoon that is a scanner. My freaking hair was standing on end.) I think, when it boils down, that I want to define strength as a combination of drive, stubbornness, resourcefulness and a refusal to unnecessarily submit to whatever life throws at you, long past the point when you want to bow out.

The key, I suppose, is hanging on past the point where it may be fun for you. Not unnecessarily; it would be stupid to hang on to something for the sake of hanging on (*kicks her dunce cap under the table*), at least after you realize you're hanging on because you can. I would say that the difference is in choosing a path that you think is necessary (and must be done) and following that path to the best of your ability, entailing a set amount of cost along the way. Let's be realistic; I am a very strong-willed person (see the rest of the blog), but there are things I am, currently, unwilling to sacrifice to get a given result. It depends greatly on the value of the goal versus the value of the thing sacrificed (which I am stupid enough to go through with sometimes, even when I know that what I give up is worth more than what I gain.)

History is full of monsters with similar ethos; the only response I can make to that is the fact that I consciously remind myself to listen. I am fully capable of ignoring the people around me and/or running them over and using them to get to goals. Of course, I incur personal damage that way to the way I view myself, a cost I am usually unwilling to pay to make a given goal.

Of course, discussing this in economic terms completely ignores the emotional toll and/or benefit of being strong (which I often prefer; despite the high level of disclosure in the blog, I am uncomfortable with talking about my emotions on this subject.) I often think of being strong, when I realize I'm doing it (occasionally, I'm bull-headed and don't immediately snap to it), as stripping down to a point. What I'm actually doing is ranking my emotions and determining the inner cost of being strong.

I gotta tell you, being embarrassed, while not pleasant, does not rank high on my list of things to pay attention to. Sometimes I chose to do things that embarrass me just to keep the unpleasantness of it in perspective. The low sort of ranking also applies to being angry, being happy, being in pain (a whole other subject), being grieved (it happens a lot, actually) or being discomforted. I am frequently discomforted and have noticed a positive correlation between discomfort and progress toward goals, so I usually take it as a good, if minor, sign that I'm getting somewhere. (Illogical, yes. Also comforting.) Even though I know things are not this way, I usually go through a mental process in which I focus on the goal and tell myself that the particulars (when I've decided they are worth disregarding) are irrelevant and that I must reach the goal. I will reach the goal.

And then I change to suit. I'm not sure how else to put it. When you want something, you adapt as best you can (I'm going to pointedly refuse to discuss the overwhelming rate of partial success which tends to be what I get) and you get it. And frankly, if I get even part of it, I take it as success.

So there you go. It's a sketch of strength that is not perfect, nor absolute. Just don't get in between me and the goal, because then I'll have to plot around you (and getting around someone without hurting them/hurting them as little as you can is a better test of skill and fortitude than running over them, which requires only viciousness.)

Now, if you'll excuse me... *pulls out her dunce cap*

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