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In Sight of Ourselves: 3. Strength (October 26, 2001)

n. The power of resisting force, attack, strain, or stress; durability; solidity. The word strength originated in the Old English, strengthu meaning power, force, vigor, moral resistance. This original meaning was not closely associated with physical strength, a more common use of the word today.

Strength is important part of conscience. Our personal strength enables us to stand up for what we believe is right when the easier path would be to do nothing. Several years ago, I met a small-stature Hispanic woman with a strong heart at one of my meetings. She was a single mother with a 14-year-old girl. After the meeting, she approached me with a question. "Every night my 14-year-old wants to go out with her friends and stay out very late. But every night I say no. She says horrible things to me night after night. She tells me she would be happier if I let her go." She looked away from me for a moment and sighed. Maybe I should let her go." I asked her if she knew her daughter's friends. She raised her eyebrows and said she did. "Are they happy?" I asked. She looked down. When she looked up again, she was smiling. "No," she said. "That's right," I responded. They do not have someone who loves them enough to stand up to them and insist they follow a good and safe rule. This mother had strength.

In some cases, not doing something is a sign of strength. Jerome Kagan and his colleagues asked 4 ½-year-old children to perform twelve acts. Six were neutral in their moral implications (e.g., make marks on a blank piece of paper), but six were likely to be disapproved by parents (e.g., pour red juice on the table). One request revealed an interesting aspect of strength. The examiner opened a photo album. When she turned to an attractive photo of herself, she handed it to the child and said, "Tear up my favorite picture."

The vast majority of children looked at her, some with anxious downcast faces, and then tore either a small corner of the photo or the entire picture. But ten children (about five percent of the total), looked at the examiner and said, "no." Then they handed the picture back to her without any apparent anxiety. One child added, "It's your favorite picture." These children had the moral strength to act consistent with conviction. They had conformed to other requests by the adult. When asked to tear the photo, however, they refused. They would not do something they believed wrong. While other children wilted under the pressure of adult authority, they were willing to risk disapproval. These young children had strength.

Now, more than ever, we have to find strength. All of us…. No matter where our families originated: India, Syria, Pakistan, Israel, Africa, Mexico, Europe China, or America, we form a glorious stew of creative spirit and boundless energy. Together, we must find the strength to face an uncertain future. Our strength is in our union. Consider the last three letters of the word American. I-C-A-N, I can. We can.

Dag Hammerskjold wrote, "Life only demands the strength we possess-only one feat is possible….not to have run away." Now we must stand… together.

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