Friday, May 1, 2009

Character Growth Happens in ‘Loved’ Hardship

In a variation of the Tom Peters quote, “Excellent companies provide two things simultaneously: tough environments and very supportive environments,” I believe that good, enduring characters, strong in Christian values and virtue, are built on precisely the same phenomenon--a tough, yet not spirit-breaking journey.

It just doesn’t seem to gel, but when life’s running swimmingly, we just don’t grow. In fact, when things are going well, we’re more likely to succumb to softness and pleasure, and we’re inclined toward moving backwards and not forwards in the personal growth stakes. (And the nature of life is we never stand still; it’s either backwards or forwards--and only we can choose.)

Take any newly married man. He’s so ‘fed up’ on his wife’s lovely cooking (or at least it used to be like this--my wife’s a brilliant cook by the way!) he naturally puts on a winter coat as a result. Truth is, he’s just gotten comfortable with life, and doesn’t so much have anyone to impress. Harsh? (But, it’s nevertheless true.) Why do we put on weight? We get (too) comfortable with life.

‘No pain, no gain,’ they say, and rightly so. We could call these, aptly, ‘growing pains.’ Anyone who’s rebounded from adversity in life knows the pain of growth; they’d rather not have the indignity of adversity thrust upon them, but hey, there’s no choice and no room to move but grapple with the ghastly situation at hand. ‘Toughen up, princess,’ is the abrasive modern term; what I’m suggesting Christianises this concept with love. If we ‘toughen up’ without love, there’s no healing, no growth, just denial.

And when people can ‘toughen up’ in the right (loving) environments they thrive!

Provided we have a ‘very supportive environment’ or mechanism to assist, a tough environment can be countered effectively in the longer run. Both are required for the best personal growth.

I see it in situations of emotional abuse in relationships; even in some cases of bullying. With people to genuinely support and love the bullied, they can eventually grow through the harrowing times, and develop all sorts of courage and confidence as a result. What doesn’t kill them makes them stronger, to paraphrase Nietzsche.

If we know of someone doing it tough in a bullied sort of relationship we can lend loving support--and we should. We can be part of that very supportive environment.

The point is…

We have the very human ability to stretch in adapting; the resilient person’s resolve (once their mind’s made up) is not easily broken and their minds are designed to conform, in spite of what might form appositionally. “Conforming in this way is no robot or subservient behaviour; the resilient are actually strong enough to conform cheerfully.”[1]

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

[1] Wickham, Steve, Resilience is Elastic (, 3 Oct. 2008). Retrieved 30 Apr 2009 <>.

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