I was listening to a report on NPR this morning talking about the different approaches to education in Eastern (specifically Japanese and Chinese) and Western (specifically American) classrooms. The educator who was speaking was telling the story about how counterintuitive it seemed to him the first time he was in a classroom in Japan and the student who *couldn’t* figure out the problem was asked to work it on the board. By contrast, in most American classrooms, the kid who got the answer right is the one writing it on the board.
The report also included two short interview clips: one of an American mom and son; one of a Chinese mom and son. Both were explaining how their children came to be successful. The American mom tells her child, “Yes, because you’re so smart.” Conversely, the Chinese mom reminds her child how hard he practiced and worked to achieve his goal.
The point was the following: Americans equate success with “smarts” or “natural talent.” In a lot of Eastern cultures, success is seen to be the result of hard work and dedication.
At first, this had me thinking about my own education: Was I “successful” because I was naturally intelligent? Or because I was a hard worker? Or some of both? (I vote option three in my case. I am, arguably, naturally intelligent, but there is no way you graduate with honours while simultaneously suffering from an undiagnosed and untreated mental illness without some hard work and dedication.)
Then the reporter said something that really got me thinking:
Obviously if struggle indicates weakness — a lack of intelligence — it makes you feel bad, and so you’re less likely to put up with it. But if struggle indicates strength — an ability to face down the challenges that inevitably occur when you are trying to learn something — you’re more willing to accept it.
That’s when I began to think about struggle in recovery. Are people are fully recovered just naturally more “gifted” at recovery? Or do they just struggle longer (the report also cites a really fascinating study about how long students will stick with an “impossible” task)?
If we, in recovery, view struggle as weakness — what will be our response? If every time I am tempted by a behaviour or overcome by ED thoughts, I judge myself as weak, why would I continue fighting? What would stop me from giving up?
But if I view the struggle as strength…what a different story indeed. Every time I am faced with the “impossible problem” of an urge or thought or behaviour and I struggle and resist…I AM STRONG.
If we equate struggle with strength, not weakness, it suddenly becomes easier to have some grace for ourselves along this recovery journey. My desire to self-harm or skip dinner isn’t me displaying weakness, it’s an opportunity to show my strength.
And as with weight-lifting, repetitions only make one stronger.
Your struggle isn’t weakness — it is STRENGTH.
If you’re interested in reading or listening to the report I keep referencing, you can find it here: Struggle for Smarts? How Eastern and Western Cultures Tackle Learning
Oh, and by request, pink hair: