I’m tough because I give a shit

What makes someone tough? Strong in the face of adversity? Emotionally sturdy?

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My literary crush David Brooks (catch up on my previous posts on him here and here) touches on this topic quite a bit. Recently in the New York Times he flagged the idea that emotional sturdiness “happens”. That is, we’re not born with it. Importantly, it builds over time from applying ourselves to a greater cause – a child, a cause, a need beyond ourselves.

We get tough when we fire the f*ck up. We get tough when we give a sh*t.

About something, someone, all of it.

What matters is caring, says Brooks, and this is what is missing when someone presents as emotionally fragile:

“Emotional fragility seems like a psychological problem, but it has only a philosophical answer. People are really tough only after they have taken a leap of faith for some truth or mission or love. Once they’ve done that they can withstand a lot.”

I’m told I’m tough. “Tenacious”, says my Dad. Resilient, several doctors have said. 

And yet I collapse in an emotionally-charged heap more often than I’d like. I’ve berated myself for dark, deep philosophical ponderings. I’ve tried to train my brain to care less, to be less passionate. But as I’ve aged, I’ve realised this vulnerability to the life-charged depths of existence is the grist to my mill. 

The take-home, of course, is to stop worrying about coping better, and to stop thinking you have to become more nonchalant and cool to the the emotional depths. Dear me, no. Instead it’s to fire up and give a shit. 

A far more noble, satisfying, philosophically and spiritually sturdy goal, don’t you think?

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