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“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”

I’ve heard this quote many times. It’s probably one of Nietzsche’s most memorable
quotes – it aptly reflects the human condition, and it motivates, very much so. It
motivates the hell out of me, at least. And I suspect – that Nietzsche quite ironically, was
foreseeing his own future, becoming stronger and stronger, until he met his doom and
faced death head on. He died an insane man, but a strong one.

Is it not true, that we all have suffered tremendously, at one time or another? We all
suffer. Actually, we should suffer. It is our suffering (be it extreme or minimal) that
highlights and marks our necessities, which in turn motivates innovation and creativity,
which then breeds solutions. And that, is how we have gotten everything we take for
granted today: technology (light, radio, television, cars, planes, computers), religion
(every major religion has come from the need for a loving God, order and moral ethics),
philosophy (the need to answer the questions that religion only answers dogmatically)
and human relationships (our need to love has spurned on the institution of marriage, and
the concept of a family). The human race has exploited the hell out of these commodities
(economically speaking) and has built over what the previous generations have built.

So, none of these needs every killed anyone – did they? On the contrary, these same
wants and needs produced a flurry of pro-active elements, represented by individuals,
organizations, and at times, whole masses of people (countries and such), which all
together, made a difference by taking a single need and properly addressing it.

At the beginning of the 1900’s, the Ottoman Empire was crumbling, right after its defeat
in WWI, and having to face soon its imminent partition, Mustafa “Ataturk” Kemal (The
Turkish Republic’s first leader – and its creator), quickly addressed the need for Turkey to
rise above their miser state and form a Turkish Republic. So this one man, along with his
whole countrymen, revolutionized the Ex-Ottoman stronghold, and turned it into a
mighty secular state. Had the Ottoman Empire not suffered through a bitter disintegration
during the beginning of the 20th Century, the Turkish Republic might have been
something totally different now.

Instead of standing idly and waiting for occupying Allied forces to decide their future, the
Turks took matters into their own hands, and decided to “not die” and thus, “become
stronger” as Nietzsche points out in his quote.

Turkish fervor and nationality was notoriously spread around since the inception of the
Republic – a behavior that holds much in common with all newly-founded republics that
have, just like Turkey, developed strong nationalistic feelings at the moment of their
creation. It should come as no surprise that the Turkish People are one of the most
outright Nationalistic peoples ever. The cruel defeat and collapse of their once-mighty
Empire was reduced to a single Peninsula, leaving many people overwhelmed by the
crushing of what they had once held: “Ottoman Pride”. Yet, Ataturk, the Turkish Leader,
made the people stronger, something for which he is strongly revered for today, by all
Turks.

I have no proper say in these matters, I only hold a third parties’ opinion, this because I
am not a Turk myself – but, so far, I’ve managed to gather a foreigner’s point of view on
all of this, thanks to what has been said and discussed with Turkish friends, and I think
that with that, I hold enough information on these matters so as to be sure not to claim
any sort of falsehood. However, the point of this narrative, which focuses on the
foundation of the Turkish Republic, is not so much for the historical sense, as I mean for
it to be. I put forth this example because it manifests Nietzsche’s quote and turns it into a
reality. The actions that were taken during the founding of Turkish State were deathly (in
terms of the boldness of those changes), yet were carried out with diligence. For that
same reason, people go out of their way to praise any individual with the valor, courage
and strength to carry out the sort of actions most people would “die from”. This explains,
at least to me, why Turks love their leader, Ataturk so much.

It explains why South America reveres Simon Bolivar. It explains why Winston Churchill
is such and admirable historical figure, despite having made huge mistakes in judgment
during his career in Politics and the Military. It even explains why Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot,
Idi Amin and other dead dictators are so ardently despised. These tyrannical demagogues
in one way or another, strengthened in valor, conviction in the face of the opposition
(albeit criminally), up to the point where they reached the pinnacle of power; butting
heads amongst the most powerful men in the world – yet all of these men would later die,
and be resented, hated, and regarded as abominable human beings. Power comes and
power goes. It is the real and enduring strength that comes from pure goodwill, which
lasts – not the perturbed actions of warmongers and megalomaniacs. So, even though
“what does not kill” some, makes them “stronger”, it is not up to Nietzsche, or us, to
decide whether this aphorism can apply to only the good intentioned – and not the evil
minds.

Then we have Nietzsche’s other quote – his not so famous one, a quote that was later
revived by Viktor Frankl’s book “Man’s search for Meaning”:

“He who has a strong enough why can conquer almost any how”

Frankl, a Concentration Camp Victim and a Holocaust Survivor lived to tell the world,
how having a strong enough why, makes all the difference in one’s life. The inner
strength he so strongly craved to survive each passing day, to bear the indescribable
suffering of concentration camp prisoners, was accessed through meaning – personal
meaning. His personal meaning was imagining himself in years to come, giving a lecture
on psychology, on his breakthrough research, and on advancing his career. His meaning
was also defined by his personal life, which was more than anything, imagining his wife
after the War would be over, embracing her and living the rest of his days with her. “It
would not matter”, he would say, if his wife…was alive or not. It was the sheer thought
of going back to her – holding on to the possibility that he would meet up with her, and
be with her once more. And it was this, and this alone that made him survive the
concentration camp.

There were cases of people that survived the camps, and then died quickly after. When an
investigation into these people’s deaths was conducted, it was found that all these people
had had meaning – and it was, to be able to see their loved ones again. After learning
their loved ones had died, they soon perished.

The mind is stronger than anything. So strong in fact, that it can kill you, or strengthen
you.

Is this decision solely up to us?

Are there external factors involved?

We can conclude, that yes, survival, and strengthening our place in life, is completely up
to us. But, to a certain extent. There is absolutely no one that can go it alone, because,
unfortunately, life wasn’t designed to be a solitary pursuit. Life was meant to be lived –
and to live means to participate…to participate in life, requires for connections between
our inside world and the outside to take place.

And this…connects everyone.

So, worldly weakness and strength aside, the whole point here is to ascertain the fact that
developing an inner strength is exactly what’s responsible for producing an outer source
of strength, and that same outer source of strength is what keeps us from “getting killed”.

“What doesn’t kill you does make you stronger”