None of us are strangers to exhaustion. There are some days where your efforts seem futile and you lose your sense of perspective. Life is full of suffering, this we acknowledge. But during times of difficulty, just remind yourself: “That which does not destroy us makes us stronger.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
Friedrich Nietzsche was a prolific German writer and philosopher whose work significantly influenced Western philosophy throughout the 20th century. Nietzsche experienced numerous tragedies during his lifetime; his father and brother passed away, he experienced a difficult relationship with his mother and sister, and a severe disease tortured him for most of his adult life. He also lived through the many perils of wartime.
Nietzsche even attempted suicide several times.
The serious German scholar’s philosophy certainly reflected the suffering he had endured, but Nietzsche also possessed a stoicism from which we can all learn valuable life lessons.
The short moral story that follows demonstrates Nietzsche’s famous aphorism perfectly: “That which does not destroy us makes us stronger.”
“You don’t understand,” the teacup said. “I haven’t always been like this. There was a time when I was red, shapeless, and made of clay. My master took me and rolled me and patted me over and over, and I yelled out, ‘Let me alone!’ but he only smiled: ‘Not yet.’”
“Then I was placed on a spinning wheel,” the teacup continued, “and suddenly I was spun around and around and around. ‘Stop it! I’m getting dizzy!’ I screamed. But my master only shook his head and said, ‘Not yet.’”
“Then he put me in the oven. I had never felt such heat. I wondered why he wanted to burn me, and so I yelled and knocked on the oven door. I could see him through the opening and I could read his lips as he shook his head: ‘Not yet.’”
“Finally, the door opened. He put me on the shelf, and I began to cool. ‘There, that’s better!’ I said. And he brushed and painted me all over. The fumes were horrible. I thought I would gag. ‘Stop it, stop it!’ I cried. He only shook his head: ‘Not yet.’”
“Then suddenly he put me back into the oven. It was not like the first one. This oven was twice as hot and I knew I would suffocate. I begged, I pleaded, I screamed, I cried! All the time I could see my master through the opening, shaking his head and saying: ‘Not yet.’”
“I knew there was no hope. I would never make it. I was ready to give up. But then the door opened, he took me out, and he placed me on the shelf.”
“One hour later my master handed me a mirror, and I couldn’t believe it was me. ‘It’s beautiful. I’m beautiful,’ I said.”
“‘I want you to remember, then,’ he said. ‘I know it hurts to be rolled and patted, but if I had left you alone, you would have dried up. I know it made you dizzy to spin around on the wheel, but if I had stopped, you would have crumbled. I know it hurt and was hot and disagreeable in the oven, but if I hadn’t put you there, you would have cracked. I know the fumes were bad when I brushed and painted you all over, but if I hadn’t done that, you never would have hardened; you would not have had any color in your life. And if I hadn’t put you back in that second oven, you wouldn’t survive for very long because your strength would not have endured.’
‘Now you are a finished product,’ my master said. ‘You are what I had in mind when I first began with you.’”
We cannot always know what lies ahead. We cannot always know what rewards will follow if we exercise strength and patience.
But we can know that to endure is to affirm life.
We must embrace the challenges that face us with bravery; what doesn’t destroy us will certainly make us stronger.