captain america, paul tournier and shakespeare get it right

Posted: July 17, 2012 in leadership
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“A strong man who has known power all his life may lose respect for that power, but a weak man knows the value of strength and knows, compassion.”

So says Dr. Abraham Erskines, the German defector who injects stength serum in the anemic, weakling Steve Rogers who is about to become Captain America. Steve is the right guy to get strength serum. He has the character to handle it.  Strong, he goes out saves America by sacrficing himself. Steve’s a good guy.

In Shakespeare’s “Measure For Measure,” on the day before Claudio’s scheduled execution, Isabella pleads with Angelo to spare her brother, but Angelo refuses mercy. Frustrated by his heavy-handedness, Isabella cries out:

O, it is excellent to have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant.

Isabella could have used a Captain America before America but not, of course, not before captains or tyranny. She needed a gentle giant, an enlightened tyrannt, a man tempered by fire. She needed the man who had been weak so that he knew how to use a giants strength, not as a tyrannt.

Weak and strong, everyone of us knows some of both, and it is one of the neat tricks of life to know how to balance the two. Paul Tournier, the brilliant Swiss therapist and writer got at this quite nicely in his book The Weak and The Strong. Tournier points out that really, depite the way we present ourselves in public, all of us are both weak and strong, and that we need to stay informed by these two parts of us in order to live sensitively and wisely.

Strong and weak, we need to get used to both becauses both are on life’s docket for all of us, and getting this right could make the world a lot easier for those who have to live with us.

This morning I spoke to a friend whos was saying that his mom had deteriorated, mentally. She could remember some things perfectly from years ago but couldn’t remember something he had said to her only a few minutes before. Another friend, listening in said that she had visited a retirement home recently, checking on a place for her parents, and that it was a bit shocking to see professors, doctors and writers in the fascility who could barely function anymore. Their brains had worn out.

No shame in that.

It happens.

The strong will one day become the weak, and some who are weak today may well be strong tomorrow.

What to do?

Well, all of us might do well to work at staying humble, because we certainly are not, nor will we ever be, in control of all that comes to us. If weakness comes then we would do well to use that as portal through which we might gain a beautifully gentle perspective on the world. And we might stay hopeful too, that we will have an opportunity to use power for good, learning and doing good whether weak or strong.

Perhaps it would be healthy for many of us to allow ourselves to admit and experience our weaknesses more, particularly if we plan to go out and play at being Captain America tomorrow. Say that happens, say we become a kind of Captain America in the future.  If we stay in touch with our intrinsic weaknesses, then we will have the best chance to avoid becoming  tyrannts.

Another Paul, centuries ago, commenting on this weak and strong thing, got right to the issue.

“When I am weak then I am strong.”


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