“What does not kill us makes us stronger” – True or False?

May 5, 2009

The notion that “what does not kill us  makes us stronger” may be found in the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche , Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and others. These kinds of quotes are often used by motivational speakers and others, (including me) to encourage people to bounce back from setbacks and overcome obstacles.

Is this idea really true…if  tragedies, losses and difficulties have not killed us, do we really become stronger? The short answer is “that depends.” And what does it depend upon?

First, let me offer an analogy. If we ingest poison that seriously debilitates us, but is not fatal, is the final result necessarily that we have become stronger? Of course not! We may in fact be severely impaired for the remainder of our lives.

On the other hand, a man named Bill Haast, Director of the Miami Serpentarium Laboratories, has built up an acquired immunity to certain serpents by injecting himself with gradually increasing quantities of venom he had extracted from his snakes.  However, even he  has suffered venom-caused tissue damage, culminating in the loss of a finger following a bite from a Malayan Pit Viper in 2004.

However, returning from the analogy, if one has experienced loss of a job, the death of a loved one, financial difficulties, relationship issues, natural disasters and any number of difficulties, it is human to be saddened, disappointed, in shock–and in reality many do not fully recover or “get stronger.” Others do. Why?

Earlier I said “it depends.” In large measure, it depends on attitude.

There are individuals who have been in major automobile accidents, who have had serious injuries, many setbacks, lengthy therapy — and yet they  persist, overcome and do become stronger; others may have a relatively minor “fender-bender,” and they react as if it were the end of the world.

Our attitude plays a major role in how our unfortunate circumstances ultimately pan out. I’ve often said, it’s not so much about what happens to us…it has more to do with how we choose to react to what happens.

The Bible declares,As a man thinks in his heart’ so is he,” (Proverbs 23:7).

The original Hebrew for the word think means  “to split or divide,” conveying the idea of choice. How we choose to react to our challenges…or even to the ordinary issues of our lives, will impact the outcome. If one chooses to be negative about one’s circumstances, in large measure we initiate a conspiracy against ourselves  to embrace misfortune; if one decides instead to have a positive, proactive, attitude, the results will be very different — often extraordinary.

Our circumstances alone do not determine who we are…our attitude is the more likely variable to determine who we may become.

John A. Fallone


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