Asking young people what it means to be strong is always an interesting conversation, especially with young men who default to a very stereotypical idea of “the strong man”… I bet you are all imagining a muscle-bound figure right now!
But an important conversation to have with young people is that there are many ways to be strong.
Yes, physical strength is an aspect of this, and this can be wonderful. Physical strength achieves great feats in the sporting world, in building things, in fixing and creating and even in service to others… there is much to admire here. Feeling physically strong can be an important part of our wellbeing – that confidence that we can physically tackle the challenges that are thrown at us. If we focus on what makes us feel strong as an individual, and not on comparing our strength with others, physical strength is something we can all work towards and take pride in.
But there are certainly other ways to be strong. What about intellectual strength? Having a lot of general knowledge, or even specific knowledge for that matter. You could be incredibly knowledgeable about Maths or trains or impressionist painting or the best restaurants to eat at in Melbourne. Seeing someone in their element and excited about their subject is always inspiring. This is a strength that is often acknowledged in schools – as we celebrate top marks, expert debaters and champion problem solvers.
But what about emotional strength? Do we spend enough time recognising this? Emotional strength manifests itself in many ways…. in bouncing back after a challenge or in managing your emotions in a difficult situation – not losing your cool or focusing on the positives. It could also be evident in offering help to others and supporting them in facing their own difficult times. It is this kind of strength that often goes unnoticed – but is most important when life throws us a curve ball.
These three kinds of strengths – physical, intellectual and emotional – provide an interesting expansion point to help young people begin to see their own capacity in new ways… but other paradigms also focus on the strengths we all have in our arsenal. Strengths of character you might call them.
According to the Values in Action (VIA) Institute, there are many character strengths that we each possess and can utilise. In fact, they number 24 character strengths that we all have – we just draw upon some more readily than others. There are several articles about this on the Wellbeing Hive, and this is a particularly nice one to start with. This is a really lovely way to look at strengths – as it allows everyone who does the quiz (and all SMBG students do it every year) to have particular signature strengths highlighted, and perhaps even to target some that you would like to develop.
Whatever we do in life, and whatever strengths we recognize that we have, we have a duty to use them to make the world a better place. How we use our strengths determines our character – the kind of person that we are. And as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “character is destiny”. Knowing your strengths – whatever kind of strengths they may be, and understanding what you have to offer, is an important part of this.