Sunday’s Wisdom #227: The Meaning of Strength

“Being strong does not mean you have to be a criminal.”
– Leslie Thompkins-Gordon, Gotham
Season 5, Episode 10, “I Am Bane”

This is one that sounds like it should be common sense, ya know? I mean, when we think of strength, we generally think of everything except criminals. And yet, it is misunderstood with disturbing frequency.

When Lee, as she’s called, says this, she is talking to Barbara Keene, who, at the beginning of the show, was pretty much just like any other normal woman. Beneath that exterior, however, was a woman who had always been made to live her life by someone else’s dictates, so perhaps she felt helpless and weak. Then she had a few successive experiences, mounting in intensity, where she saw these strong, exotic, and especially independent, people, up close and personal, and almost all of them were dangerous criminals, unhinged and deadly. On some level, then, perhaps she internalized the idea that strength somehow meant the ability to break the rules and hurt people.

Does that sound crazy? It is, certainly, but we’ve had plenty of examples in real life. I recently read something about a cop killer, around a century ago, whose first victim had merely pulled him over. When this killer was caught, after a massive manhunt, and sentenced to death, he bemoaned how this was what he got for defending himself, as if being pulled over were a threat to his life and liberty.

After Al Capone was jailed, he commented on how all he’d done was give people a little pleasure in life, and for this he had been hunted. All those corpses in Cadaver Cove, he surely thought, were just what he needed to do in order to stay free, to keep doing what he was doing.

Heck, don’t we idolize those brave and noble outlaws who defy “the man,” risking their lives every day, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor? What greater strength can there be, than the power to break all the rules and get away with it?

But there are other people who are strong.

A government is made up of people, so if the criminals who defy it are strong, doesn’t that mean the people in the government are also strong?

Cops risk their lives every day, facing murderous criminals, deranged psychopaths, crisis and catastrophe, and not a small amount of hatred from the very same people they protect. Is that not strong?

Much the same can be said of firemen. Are not they strong, who run into raging infernos to save lives, and battle a literal force of nature to save cities and countrysides?

Medics of all levels practice discipline, endure extremely long hours, bring cheer and caring into the lives of the unfortunate, and battle disease, disaster, and death of every kind. Is that not strong?

Soldiers endure hellish training, sometimes including literal torture to prepare them against the enemy’s version of it, all so they can run into danger, overcoming savage enemies and protecting the safety and freedom of entire nations, even the entire world. Is that not strong?

Normal people get up every day, and they go to work every day, and they endure whatever is thrown at them every day, and when some calamity hits them, and they lose everything, they get back up, rebuild, and do it all over again. Is that not strong?

Strength is not, and has never been, the ability to just do whatever you want. Strength is the ability to endure, and it is often found in the company of others.

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