“Is being weak really that bad?”
– Sojiro Seta, Rurouni Kenshin
Episode 56, “A Duel With an Extreme Moment”
It seems like such a simple question, doesn’t it?
These words aren’t even spoken aloud. They’re part of an inner discussion, something Sojiro is saying as he remembers a most terrible and traumatic night in the rain. His own family tried to murder him when he was little, after years of using and abusing him. He defended himself, and killed all of them instead, something he might never have been able to do if not for something his new mentor (one of the primary villains of the story) taught him: survival is a matter of strength. As in nature, where only the fittest survive, so in battle do the strong live and the weak die. That became the foundation of Sojiro’s outlook on life, his entire psychology built on that, and that alone. It’s part of what made him such a formidable killer.
But, as he asks himself, when that idea is challenged, is being weak really that bad?
It seems like it should be a straight-up answer: no. No, it’s not “bad” to be weak.
Everybody, even the strongest of us, is weak in some way. No one is strong in every way, and no one is strong all the time. That’s part of why we need each other, with bonds of loyalty to cover each others’ weaknesses with complementing strengths. And it’s why we need humility, to remember that we are all equals in the end.
Yet, if being weak isn’t bad, then why do we shun and despise it? Why do we universally seek strength? Why do we want it, crave it, fight for it, and follow those whom we see as strong? The answer is, because sometimes we need it.
When someone comes to take what is ours, to hurt us and those around us, then we need to have the power to fight them off. When natural disasters strike, we need physical strength to scramble for our lives and dig people out of the rubble. When we have any momentous, overwhelming task to perform, our wits and wills may drive us forward, but our bodies need to be strong enough to go the distance, or we will fall short.
If we don’t have physical strength… then we’re helpless.
And then, of course, there are other kinds of strength that aren’t physical, and aren’t aggressive. Creativity, patience, discipline, those are strengths. The resilience to endure hardship and keep living, the determination to never give up hope, the resolve to do what is necessary as well as the wisdom to temper that resolve with limits that maintain our humanity, and the drive to persist and endure despite physical exhaustion (as every healer demonstrates), those are all forms of strength, not one of them relying on the condition of the body. Most of all, the capacity to keep caring, no matter the pain and loss we endure, is a formidable strength all on its own.
So, being weak isn’t bad, but neither is it desirable, yet it’s unavoidable.
And being strong isn’t good, in and of itself, yet we need it, in all its forms.
Somehow, we must accept that we are weak, and that there is nothing wrong with that, while also striving for strength. We mustn’t become indolent in our weakness, using it as an excuse to remain that way, yet we mustn’t rely on strength as a measure of our value as people.
So, I suppose the answer to the question is… “it depends.”