Misinterpreting a Man’s Strength is Our Weakness, Not His

Guest Blogger: Joan Ruaiz

Photo by Extreme Liberal

The strength of a man isn’t in the weight he can lift.
It’s in the burdens he can carry…

During a job interview, a question frequently posed to the job-seeker is, “What are your weaknesses?” That question is not asked in order to reveal weaknesses per se, but rather as a way for the interviewer to assess the strengths of the applicant based on the revelations the answer offers. The right response is never, “I have none,”  since we all do.

For the past few months, I have read and heard that our President is weak and doesn’t stand up, and has a habit of caving. This claim, in fact, has been a topic of political conversation for some time. I have reflexively rejected this  judgement, but I hadn’t fully analyzed why until now.

I do ask myself  how ironic it is that the strongest black man on the world stage today would be described as a weak man by his critics. But rather than denouncing the name-callers simply out of hand, I’m compelled to examine the meaning of this pronouncement and its intent. Are those critics correct in their assessment? What is weakness and what is strength? And who has it, and who doesn’t? What’s the measurement to arrive at such an adjective, one that is either a mean-spirited  put-down or is the unfortunate truth? How do we judge?

In a society where George Bush was seen by many as forceful, strong and resolute for refusing to negotiate with his foes, and for treating his domestic opposition without respect or due conscience, I can understand why seeing the opposite behavior from the next President could be interpreted as mild, weak and caving. However, does that really make it true, or have we been conditioned to make such analysis without a full understanding of the seriousness of our indictment? What is true is that Mr. Bush and President Obama, although both have borne the title of President, are each as different from the other as night is to day.

George Bush grew up in privilege, while Barack Obama didn’t. George Bush was the product of a solid, long-lasting marital union; Barack Obama was not. One had a successful father to emulate; the  other, a father who was vaguely distant. One grew up deeply rooted, with a feeling that he belonged, while the other continually adapted to situations of constant change. The fortunate son had everything that money could buy, and the less fortunate had to make do with being as resourceful as he could be. One could hail a cab just like that, while the other might just be made to wait. One man woke up each morning fully aware that the world was his oyster; the other went to sleep knowing that the world would not be surprised if he failed at life. These are some of the reasons that make these two men different, but they still don’t  answer why one would be described as strong, while the other one would be called weak.

Strength in character comes from the ability to prioritize what is truly important for the greater good, even when facing opposition from within or from with out. A man who truly cares and tends to his family, while loving his wife madly, is a man who loves strongly. A man who, against all odds, succeeds in obtaining the best education that this country can offer shows strength in determination. A man who rises from nowhere to the highest position in the modern era demonstrates a strength that is undeniable. And yes, a  black man with a funny name who dares to win the Presidency of the United states must have both absolute courage and fearless audacity.

But strength is not a subjective feeling that we each get to define, not really. In actuality, what strength represents has been known for years. Here’s a list (these days political folks hate lists, and that’s really too damn bad). I’m including it here because we need to read it:

Strengths of Wisdom and Knowledge: Cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge
1. Creativity [originality, ingenuity]: Thinking of novel and productive ways to conceptualize and do things.
2. Curiosity [interest, novelty-seeking, openness to experience]: Taking an interest in ongoing experience for its own sake; exploring and discovering.
3. Open-mindedness [judgment, critical thinking]: Thinking things through and examining them from all sides; weighing all evidence fairly.
4. Love of learning: Mastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge, whether on one’s own or formally.
5. Perspective [wisdom]: Being able to provide wise counsel to others; having ways of looking at the world that make sense to oneself and to other people.

Strengths of Courage: Emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external and internal
6. Bravery [valor]: Not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain; acting on convictions even if unpopular.
7. Persistence [perseverance, industriousness]: Finishing what one starts; persisting in a course of action in spite of obstacles.
8. Integrity [authenticity, honesty]: Presenting oneself in a genuine way; taking responsibility for one’s feeling and actions.
9. Vitality [zest, enthusiasm, vigor, energy]: Approaching life with excitement and energy; feeling alive and activated.

Strengths of Humanity: interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others
10. Love: Valuing close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated.
11. Kindness [generosity, nurturance, care, compassion, altruistic love, “niceness”]: Doing favors and good deeds for others.
12. Social intelligence [emotional intelligence, personal intelligence]: Being aware of the motives and feelings of other people and oneself.

Strengths of Justice: civic strengths that underlie healthy community life
13. Citizenship [social responsibility, loyalty, teamwork]: Working well as a member of a group or team; being loyal to the group.
14. Fairness: Treating all people the same according to notions of fairness and justice; not letting personal feelings bias decisions about others.
15. Leadership: Encouraging a group of which one is a member to get things done and at the same maintain time good relations within the group.

Strengths of Temperance: strengths that protect against excess
16. Forgiveness and mercy: Forgiving those who have done wrong; accepting the shortcomings of others; giving people a second chance; not being vengeful.
17. Humility / Modesty: Letting one’s accomplishments speak for themselves; not regarding oneself as more special than one is.
18. Prudence: Being careful about one’s choices; not taking undue risks; not saying or doing things that might later be regretted.
19. Self-regulation [self-control]: Regulating what one feels and does; being disciplined; controlling one’s appetites and emotions.

Strengths of Transcendence: strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning
20. Appreciation of beauty and excellence [awe, wonder, elevation]: Appreciating beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in various domains of life.
21. Gratitude: Being aware of and thankful of the good things that happen; taking time to express thanks.
22. Hope [optimism, future-mindedness, future orientation]: Expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it.
23. Humor [playfulness]: Liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people; seeing the light side.
24. Spirituality [religiousness, faith, purpose]: Having coherent beliefs about the higher purpose, the meaning of life, and the meaning of the universe.

When reading the qualities that enumerate personal strength, I note that  many are qualities easily seen in Barack Obama. As the President of the United States, the President’s team is the American people. In this country, he is the leader who, while using his various strengths, acts as the head of our representative democracy. He is to appeal to us, and to offer up his solution to our societal issues. He is not supposed to tower over us while dictating loudly what we shall do. He is not our father, or a tyrant, and if he demonstrated such a capacity, it would not be the strength we seek. He is to negotiate the best position for as many of us as he can under circumstances that we can only imagine but oftentimes fail to appreciate. That is his job.

“This ain’t fun. But you watch me, I’ll get it done.”Jackie Robinson

Look, Mr. Bush was never called weak, although he has been called many things. I personally perceive him as an ideologue and a bully, and although many might think that bullies are not weak people, that is not true.

Myth: Bullies are tough people
Truth: Bullies are weak, cowardly and inadequate people who cannot interact in a mature professional manner and have to resort to psychological violence (and, with child bullies, physical violence) to get their way. Only weak people need to bully.

The person who made the observation I quote below was a relatively ordinary guy not known as a deep thinker, and yet even he still got it.  Some will not be impressed with Alex Karras, as  he was only a  football player who later became an actor. But his words make sense, and that is why I end with them:

“It takes more courage to reveal insecurities than to hide them,  more strength to relate to people
than to dominate them, 
more ‘manhood’ to abide by thought-out principles rather than blind reflex.
Toughness is in the soul and spirit, not in muscles and an immature mind.”

Also found at Democrats for Progress!


15 thoughts on “Misinterpreting a Man’s Strength is Our Weakness, Not His

  1. Good post. I have no problem with Obama; I think that he is doing as well as reality dictates. I am an ordinary person and a not a meber of the commentariat who buys ink by the barrel, so I have no influence.
    Again: I have no problem with Obama and I will have no difficulty voting for him again.

  2. I think that America has a horrible perception when it comes to viewing strength and weakness and it has since dominated our political dialogue. Bush was never a strong president but rather a weak man who hardly ever stood for anything but the typical laziness of the American voter. He also fit the mold that so much of the media likes to portray as strength but sadly as it happens in our sensationalistic media, gets misunderstood. Our culture seems to believe that you have to shoot from the hip, be down right rude to others and act like a complete asshole to be perceived as strong. Compromise is often viewed as a weakness and stooping to the level of the ‘other guy’ is perceived as power when it is in reality nothing but weakness.

    In order to be strong you have to admit that you are not perfect. Standing up for convictions is one thing but it takes a lot more strength to question them and ask ones self, ‘why.’ Sadly our media has set the tone of what power and strength are and instead have painted it more as being a bully who is as you said a coward, someone who uses muscle to get what they want. This type of person is the true weakling, one who can never question anything and just mindlessly recites left or right winged political points like some sort of mindless robot is not a strong man.

  3. Thanks so much for this post.

    I’ve been trying for some time to understand why it is it bothers me so much when I hear Democrats characterize Obama as “weak”, “indecisive”, “caving” and so forth. I’ve come to two conclusions:

    1. A black man who rises in America from a position of state senator to President in six short years while defeating two of the most powerful political institutions in the country (the Clinton machine and the GOP) and does so in the face of some of the most virulent opposition seen since the days of Abraham Lincoln does not, in my mind, qualify as “weak”.

    2. This whole model of “weakness” and “strength” that is being used to judge Obama is nothing more than the REPUBLICAN model for what a good leader should be. We as Democrats have apparently come to the conclusion that the Republican’s uncompromising attitude towards their opponents and a kill-or-be-killed approach to negotiations (politics as nothing BUT war) is the RIGHT way to govern. How could I conclude otherwise since we seem to spend so much time talking about how Republicans would do it differently (i.e., better)?

    Obama promised a different model of governance. Not a left-wing version of the same right-wing intransigence that we have become used to, but a model that says that the best of our country is exemplified when finding ways to work together in order to solve our problems is more important than making the other side look “weak” and your side look “strong”. He campaigned on it, he has lived it and I admire him for it.

    Now I can understand the frustration of many in light of what we have seen for the last three years and I don’t question anyone’s right to be upset that this country has had to put up with so much crap. But I refuse to let my frustration lead me to adopt a model for judging strength that is specifically designed to make the greatest of human values (kindness, intelligence, compassion, etc.) look like “weakness”.

    I would hope that others would join me.

  4. I so agree that the media has had much to do with the demise of intellect, something this country used to count as a virtue. The other virtue we lack more than ever is patience. Nothing longer than a 30 minute sitcom, as we snack on our happy meals appears to be the extent of our attention span, and all should be resolved by the end of the show, or else! Sad part about it is the “or else” may be all that we truly deserve as a nation.

  5. Wow! You put it well. In fact, your comment is so good, I may have to quote you on it sometime! Thank you for that, and yes, there are many of us who will join you in practicing the ideals of liberalism, instead of simply wearing the label!

  6. ANYONE who bashes the President in ANY medium, print blogs TV without mentioning the UNPRECEDENTED congressional obstruction is a liar and a fake. Its simple logic. VAST amounts of money has been made by those willing to do so. It is going to the crime of this new century if folks don’t wake up and realize that CITIZENS UNITED has caused corporate media to be even more ruled by monied interests. We the people are inconsequential unless we make our voices heard.

  7. The difficulty with the short attention span/impatience etc is that life is not that way. You cannot rebulid after a hurricane or wildfire in 30 minutes; you cannot rebuild your life after great personal loss immediately. Eventually, force of cimcumstance dictates patience and endurance. Life is not a situation comedy.
    This fact – that life is contingent and after disater/adversity you need endurance – needs to moved to politics.
    This ‘take no prisoners/my way or the highway’ approach does not work all that well in life.

  8. More threatening may be the Internet. At least in the media we have people who probably took at least one college journalism course even though some act like they didn’t. The Internet is full of people making up and “sending on” blatant lies keeping fact-checking sites like Politfact.com and Snopes.com very busy.

    In the past week, I have been fighting remarks on my Facebook page from right-wing mostly 20 something posters making up lies about our Texas wildfires. Growing up in a Republican family, the vast majority of family and friends are Republican! They keep insisting that Obama is snubbing Texas (“hates” us for not giving him our electoral votes!) and is not giving us an ounce of aid in fighting our many wildfires. (such posts are followed by one-word remarks about Obama like, ‘Bastard’ ‘Asshole’ ‘figures’, etc.) They NEVER post that Gov. Perry and his GOP “super-majority” in the legislature in their “slash-fest” of this past year cut 75% of the state Forest Service firefighting budget. They don’t mention that our Gov. only briefly visited a fire site in-between political speeches in South Carolina, the Reagan Library and fund raising in California most of last week. Perry has been out of the state at least 70 days this year campaigning after telling voters over-and-over last fall that he was running to SERVE Texans for four more years and was NOT going to run for president.

  9. Great point Jeff: Another point I hope to add to your comment what political victories did George W.Bush give to his blue collar supporters? None.All George W.Bush did was deregulate industries and pushed through massive tax cuts for the already wealthy. George W.Bush was our era version of Ronald Reagan, he didn’t do a damn thing for anyone but his wealthy donor class, he greatly damage the middle class by introducing a economic system where if you give rich people more money they MAY reinvest that extra money to stimulate the economy and in reality they either sat on that money or spent that money or something else.And he armed bad guys in the middle east and help fund death squads in South America. 20 to 30 years ago if a American president got caught doing that, not only would he impeached dude would be sitting in a jail cell. Yet media liked Reagan because he presented an image of aw shucks country cowboy who loved America. President Obama is like Barry Sanders after a touchdown he just hands the ball to the ref and heads back to the sideline.The media wants personalities not people who are capable govern.

  10. Robert Shrum is calling out the Democratic “cry baby” chorus who are joining in with Republicans to slime President Obama. Rev. Al Sharpton is going to call out the “cry babies” every day on his MSNBC show, beginning today exposing Senators Mary Landrieu, Joe Manchin, and Bob Casey.


    James Carville is one to jump all over Obama saying he needs to “fire people” (and maybe HIRE Carville???). Rush Limbaugh and the REICH are enjoying seeing Democrats hit the panic button 14 months before the election.


    Shrum and Sharpton talked about the several Congressional Democrats who did not support President Jimmy Carter in 1980 thinking they could save their skins by going it alone….the result being they went down with Carter, TOO!

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