The Problem with “Toughen Up!” | #MyFridayStory №288

Frans Nel
4 min readApr 28, 2023
Roxanne Minnish | Pexels

Vulnerability is sometimes seen as being weak, timid and a push-over.

In a world where status and power are pursued in place of character and values, winning is everything. In that world, the competition is fierce with few “winners” and many wannabes. Here lives are built on facades and posturing. “Applications open! Only the talented need to apply”. Talented in playing games to secure the highest material and status gain for your future.

The problem isn’t that it’s self-centred; it’s that it hurts so many bystanders.

It’s a world where a father can run onto the BMX track and take his child off the track during a race, because she isn’t coming first. The lifelong guilt and embarrassment she will endure that father will never know.

A child is playing his heart out on the soccer field. Parents, coaches, and onlookers are all screaming instructions at the little 6-year-olds. Most respond by doing their best not to let them down. The little boy is clearly carrying the team as they fight against a stronger and more organised rival. Exhausted and exasperated, he starts crying from the undue responsibility. His anxiety brings on a panic attack. Grasping his chest, he begs to leave the field. His mother shouts,

“Toughen up and get back on the field!”

The alienation and shame that little boy has experienced will scar him forever.

Seeking out the “perfect life” has translated to winning at all costs in all areas of our existence. The world is neatly divided up into winners and losers. The winners are the ones creating the most envy from the wannabes. The race to gain status and power in the eyes of other people creates hollow lives. A thin veneer that when scratched reveals very little in substance.

Maybe it was because I was sick as a child, or because I had hip and happening parents, I’m not sure. But I wasn’t raised in such an environment. My folks were loving and caring people that not only tolerated vulnerability, but they also encouraged it. To them, you must make yourself vulnerable before God. That vulnerability translates to being vulnerable in the world. To your neighbour, your master and to your enemy. There is a servant-leadership element that suggests:

What can I do for you?

There is a place for “tough love” in raising a healthy child, most child-minders would agree. Corporal punishment that involves hurting a child is ineffective. Plus, it can leave lifelong emotional scaring. Being stern with a child while remaining calm and in control sets healthy boundaries. Children respond by being more relaxed and comfortable around adults that set boundaries. Time-out, losing privileges and extra chores are other ways of disciplining a child.

If you live in a world where only the goal-scorer is the winner, you are losing out on the talents of so many other people. The kid with his back to the soccer game, kicking a dandelion growing on the ground, might not turn out to be the next Lionel Messi. But he could go on to be a great social worker that changes the lives of many people. That child has his whole life ahead of him, this soccer game, this BMX race, this event right now does not define him or her. Let them have fun. Let them enjoy being outdoors, playing with friends.

“Toughen up!” is not a phrase a child should hear. I’m not sure it’s good to say to anyone you love. The world can be an ugly place as it is. Adding to the darkness only makes it uglier. Living life where power and status are your priority leaves no space for humility and vulnerability. Two key ingredients needed to show grace and compassion towards others.

Life is not made up of winner and losers, it’s made up of a bubbling cauldron of people of all kinds. Everyone with a dream of a better life. Replacing “Toughen up!” with, “What can I do for you?” might be a good start to help someone get a little closer to their dream.

Have an awesome long weekend and please be generous! 😄

Happy Workers Day for Monday!

As always, thanks for reading 🙏

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