“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.  Most people use that trite phrase when they don’t know what to say about a situation that was difficult.  They don’t know what to say to survivors.  Things hit too close to home for them, the story makes them uncomfortable, they aren’t able to hold space for someone else’s emotions or experiences or they aren’t able to empathize and so they whip out this quote.

Well, adversity does build resilience, but most of the time that’s very much a side effect or a surface issue that hides the actual growth and becoming of the person that comes out the other side.  It doesn’t point to the wisdom learned, it doesn’t point to the identity that has formed from the experience, it actually somewhat encourages the notion that life will just be more of the same and luckily this person is now equipped to deal with it.  As if the person would just stand there and take more or put themselves in the same type of situation again.  As if being burnt meant that they were now fireproof and could withstand a blowtorch aimed at their head.

So to that phrase, to use a British turn of phrase, I say “Bollocks!”  First of all, some people never recover from trauma so the phrase is pretty meaningless at the outset.  Second, why would we necessarily want or need to be stronger?  Many people don’t have that as a goal in life.  What they learn or achieve or become because of their situation is unique to them.  And here’s a thought…what if we were allowed to gain from that wisdom and becoming and achieving?  What if that radiated out from them like sunlight and we could partake of it?  And not from them becoming a motivational speaker or going to schools or talking to reporters, but from speaking to them, face to face.  What if, when they tell their story, even if it’s just an aside, instead of pushing it away from us with a trite phrase, we stop.  Just stop.  Stop doing, stop planning, stop being busy, just stop and listen.  Give the gift of hearing them.  Let their story sink in.  Feel empathy.  Hear them with all of who we are.

Perhaps then not only would their story be about them and their path and their becoming, but it might also be about us.  And instead of pushing them away with a phrase, we could speak the healing words: “Thank you.”