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March 16th, 2019

There’s that limply inspiring phrase “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”  Which certainly seems to always be about other people.  We might wonder, are the tough people who are already going being told such a thing?  Or does the presence of this statement feel more like a belittling assessment? 


This is perhaps reminiscent of the obvious problem with traditional schooling.  A grade, such as an A- or a C+ gives no indication of a trend.  It is more a statement of position as opposed to motion.  It’s akin to saying: this student’s command of the subject is good, or mediocre.  It gives no evidence of where someone started, what sort of progress, either good or bad was made, and certainly offers no indication of how a person might grow, which is – to the great misfortune of millions – exactly how institutions of higher education treat such summarizing symbols.


To segway back to our initial phrase: “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” perhaps merely indicates that the listener is not seen as tough in the eyes of the speaker.  Though the intention is perhaps a good one, if the listener comes to believe the speaker, than the prescription is entirely iatrogenic, meaning: it makes a weak person out of someone who was simply not appearing tough.


So many of our efforts land in the same vein:  By merely describing the situation, we entrench that situation, as opposed to changing it for the better – which is most likely our intention and objective.  Yet we shoot ourselves in the foot by failing to take a step back and take in the whole situation.


The straight-shooter might simply conclude that one has to face the music, man-up, and stop ignoring reality.


This may work in some cases, but it puts an awful lot of navigational burden on the listener.  And isn’t this the person in need of help?


The prescription Deal with it! starts to look like laziness on the part of the person saying it.  If such a person is in a position to say such a thing, wouldn’t they be equipped to give more thoughtful advice?  Perhaps such advice wouldn’t fit so quaintly into a one liner that can propagate through culture like all quotes do.  But this is a big part of what makes us human: taking the time with one another, not just to explain things, but to honor that interaction by stepping back from it and asking: what would actually be effective in helping this person grow?  Surely we can do better than just barking at a person that they should grow?  If that’s all a person can muster, than perhaps there’s more than one person in need of help, love and growth?


We might wonder how we can repackage that cultural adage.  Instead of “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”  We might say something like: You don’t have to be tough to get going, but the further along you get, the tougher you’ll become.


Perhaps some of our cultural wisdom needs some nuanced updating:


When the going gets tough, the weak get stronger.



This episode references Episode 185: Iatrogenic Gaslighting: Are You Ok?

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