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Strength and Weakness

In Praise of Weakness

Strength and Weakness

There is a lot of received wisdom about strength and weakness: that the former should be tempered and the latter supported, that the former is laudable and the latter somehow blameworthy. Sarah wondered if that was really the case. It seemed to her that strength and weakness were somehow inextricably linked. An image from her childhood flashed through her mind, of Tate and Lyle’s Golden Syrup. On the tin (always an object of her desire) was an image of a lion, emblem of power. But he was dead, his strength was gone: and from his body poured forth bees. Weak little creatures. They had made their hive in his body: and from his corruption poured forth sweetness. Honey from death and weakness. Sampson, once the strongest of men (and later on, the weakest too) had used it as his winning riddle. 

Sarah imagined how the world would be if strength and weakness were differently valued. Weight-lifting competitions, for example: people could be judged according to how little they could lift. Huge rounds of applause would make the auditorium ring if a  contestant dropped a heavy weight, or only managed to lift a barbell with a cat on each end. If athletes had to sit down a mile into a marathon, they would be awarded an extra packet of biscuits. Lovers who failed to make it to first base (as it were), would be presented with a pair of velvet handcuffs. 

But the more interesting issue was emotional strength and weakness. Sarah had noticed that society tended to value those who were resilient. You needed to be rather insensitive if you wanted to step through the world unscathed: to be robust in the face of loss or disappointment. Leaders were meant to be tough, and if they were impervious to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, so much the better.  But it might be more interesting, Sarah thought, if people were valued according to their softness. Then, people need not feel ashamed if their psyche bore the impress of past events. Folk would be rewarded for their permeability, their malleability, their anxiety.

This had far-reaching implications. In general, softer people are not practical or speedy in their doings. Society would have to be differently organised. You’d have to have break-out rooms for people to gather themselves together before they took a decision about what train to catch. You could have “prevarication spaces” where people could decide if they really loved someone enough. And during every committee meeting or conference, you’d have sessions given over to panic recovery. 

All this would, of course, lead to a more leisurely culture. You wouldn’t be able to rush through events as before. But it might be nice. You could admit to loving someone for their weaknesses as well as their strengths. It would be a more furry society. And Sarah thought that if the price you had to pay was increased exasperation levels, it was probably worth it. Bring it on!

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