Yes, I’m quoting Tom Hanks as Coach Jimmy Dugan in the classic film A League of Their Own. The entirety of the quote is thus:
“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”
Now, Coach Jimmy was talking about baseball in this clip, but I think this sentiment can be applied to a lot of other things in life. The movie itself is about half the Americans who were a part of what we now call the Greatest Generation. The extraordinary women who held this country together during World War II. Their husbands went away to fight, and these women put on their big girl britches and handled it. They worked in factories, some joined the armed forces themselves and yes, some played professional baseball. We women are magnificent creatures: adaptive, nurturing, capable, with strength unexpected in common hours (to borrow from Thoreau).
Tonight – in the shower, of all places – I got to thinking more about this. It stemmed from a conversation I had earlier today about respect, dignity, equality, and all the things going on in our country and our world today, and this quote is what came to mind. Why? Because I cannot think of a single hero, a single inspirational story, a single great achievement that happened without some pain or struggle or sacrifice.
When we talk about the greatest generation (my grandparents), we talk about their fearlessness. Their work ethic, their grit. Where do you think that came from? Put simply, they had hard lives. Yes, they were happy and yes, they lived at quite an extraordinary time in America’s history, but they definitely carried much on their shoulders. Many of them were mature as kids, holding jobs and carrying a workload at school that was greater than ours (much greater than that of our children). They didn’t have the technology we have or many of the creature comforts that have made us soft. Seems to me there’s something to be said for adversity. Friction. Failure.
Nowadays there are movements to stop bullying, which I believe in and am a part of. There are movements to respect people’s feelings, and I also am fine with that. Movements to keep people from saying things. Movements to keep people from being triggered. I can’t help but wonder if we’re doing this all wrong.
Shrinking this down to include only my household, I think that in my efforts to provide my kids with a soft place to land, I may be inadvertently depriving them of their potential. I think that I am part of a generation that may be working too hard to protect ourselves and each other from the very things that will make us – and them – great. Perhaps our kids will live up exactly to the standards we set for them. Perhaps that bar is getting lower and lower all the time.
Does that make sense? Maybe not, but let’s follow the thread and unravel the sweater and see what’s left behind. My dad said something to me today about his work environment being so different than it was even 15 years ago. “What do you mean?”, I asked him. “Well, nowadays, if you say something that even slightly comes off as harsh, you hurt someone’s feelings, they’ll just quit on ya.” I am so surprised by this because Dad works in construction, which historically is a field chock-full of gruff guys who can take a bit of criticism. What – if anything – does it say about society that a man can’t correct another man’s work for fear of hurting his feelings? Are we at a point now that we cannot hear criticism or we do not wish to improve, or we shut down and quit a job each time a situation is uncomfortable? Is this what happens when every kid in a tournament receives a participation trophy? Is this what I create when I run to the school every time my kid gets picked on?
Further down the rabbit hole, I think about the stories I’ve read or heard about great women in history. Strong women. (Women in particular because that’s who I identify with. Powerful, defiant, rebellious ones – well, for the same reason.) Fiery. Fierce. Independent. Defiant. The world changers. WHY were they so strong? HOW did they become so? WHAT was so important to them that they were willing to risk their lives? WHY are we still talking about them today? Would we know their names at all if they hadn’t experienced some injustice that lit a fire within them to reshape their world?
Would ANY of these women have made history without first being told they couldn’t?
In a word… no.
I put it in perspective for myself and ask the same questions. Would I be me if I hadn’t been hurt before? Would I feel so triumphant if I hadn’t had to figure out how to claw myself up from rock bottom? Would I be so passionate if no one who spoke to me was ever allowed to hurt my feelings? I think not. Granted, a certain amount of fire is in my blood, and I was more or less “born this way”, but I don’t think I would be this version of me if I hadn’t had to go a few rounds in the ring.
I think that kids learn resilience from standing up. I remember some parts of my own childhood and the feeling of pride that swelled in me when I finally conquered something I had been working on for ages. I don’t believe I would have felt that pride – or felt anything at all – if someone had done the hard work for me. Now, I have this thought when I watch my own kids struggling. Of course I want to run to them when they are frustrated about trying something for the twentieth time. I want to reach down, swoop them up in my arms, complete the task for them and make it all better. If I’m honest, though, that’s got nothing to do with them and everything to do with me. I want to make ME feel better. I want to soothe my OWN heartache. I want to keep myself from hurting because when they are upset, of course I feel it.
I’ve resolved to hike up my boots and get the fuck over that.
You see, before they can stand, they have to be allowed to fall down. We do them no favors by shielding them from ugly and uncomfortable parts of life. In fact, we do them a great disservice. We underestimate their capabilities when we don’t let them handle difficult tasks on their own. They need to find their own voices, and then they need to figure out what they want to use those voices to say. Without adversity, they cannot ever truly discover who they are and why they believe what they do.
Life is hard for all of us. It’s a struggle. It is, and I know it is, and I am not making light of that or trying to minimize it in any way. There are big hurdles for each of us, and each journey is different. Divorce. Death. Sickness. Pain. Heartache. I have been hurt a lot in my life, many times by people I love and trust. That’s very hard to go through. It’s hard to heal from. Hard to talk about, and hard to forgive. Hard to move forward, hard to grow, and hard not to get stuck in resentment or bitterness. The hard, though, is part of the journey. Without the trials, there couldn’t be triumph. We cannot be victors if we are unwilling to step into the skirmish for fear of having our feelings hurt.
(I say this with love, as I am one of the MOST sensitive souls out here. I’m not advocating for rudeness, but I know that rude people exist. My kids will either crumble into dust at their first unpleasant conversation, or they will know how to handle it and feel secure in themselves. I want them to be bold and confident and capable. That’s what I’m getting at with all this.)
I want my kids to know that life is good, that it’s full of love and light and good people and potential and promise. There’s another side to that coin, though. I also want them to know that life is grind and sweat and conflict and strife and it’s fucking hard. I never want to see them hurt. I do want to see them succeed – and I want to see fire in their eyes when they do. I’d much rather have world-changers as kids than comfortable semi-adults who can’t handle confrontation. It’s SUPPOSED to be hard. After all, the hard is what makes it great.