Strength and tenderness are topics that are rarely approached.
It’s an unspoken expectation that we all strive to be strong, tough, and thick-skinned. But one vital lesson that my mental health has surprisingly taught me is that you don’t have to choose between strength and tenderness. It’s not a matter of one or the other. We’re so prone to making things black and white nowadays, and it’s always either/or, for/against. But when it comes to this, we really shouldn’t need to choose.
For some reason, somewhere along the way, a person decided that being kind and caring and empathetic made you weak. That idea spread, and being cold and heartless became synonymous with strength. Why is that? And why do we feel like we need to choose between strength and tenderness in the first place? No one ever asked us to, but we feel like we have to pick one. Not only do we do that, but we’ve stigmatized both sides to make ourselves feel better, regardless of what we choose. If you’re strong, you’re icy and unemotional. If you’re tender, you’re submissive.
No one ever asked us to pick, and we shouldn’t have to. Because you can’t be one without the other. Strength, in all its romanticized glory and power, cannot be without the tenderness that we look down on. Tenderness makes you observant, care for others, and emotionally responsive to yourself and everyone else. It makes you crumble inside when you watch someone in pain and your heart grow three sizes when you see genuine joy. It makes you more in tune to yourself and what you need. People don’t have the courage to be tender. It shows vulnerability; it shows a propensity to feel pain, and people are afraid of pain.
But vulnerability isn’t a weakness, it’s a strength.
It shows that you are self-aware enough to open yourself up to the risk of being hurt. You can’t be strong without having made a few mistakes, fallen a couple of times, and been completely winded once or twice by life. Your time on this earth isn’t meant to be filled with easy decisions and perfect outcomes. Your strength comes from the hard decisions, the less-than-ideal outcomes, and the downright soul-crushing, terrible moments. It’s no coincidence that you feel strongest when you’ve just handled a large obstacle, gotten a good grade after months of hard work, or spoken up about something you’ve been thinking of for a while.
It’s all balance. It falls under the concept of yin and yang – opposite forces complement each other. Strength is tenderness. When you let yourself feel discouraged and defeated and you acknowledge and come to terms with it, you’re being strong. If you voice it, you’re being even stronger. You’re showing that you’ve been bruised, but that you’re not hiding from it, nor are you hiding it from anyone else. That takes strength. And when you empathize with someone, you’re being strong. When you’re being kind, regardless of context or any personal turmoil, you are being strong.
Don’t try and force yourself to internalize just one trait. Strength and tenderness aren’t meant to be separated; there’s a reason why people are called “well-rounded”. You can be the strong person that you so want, and still be tender. Choose to be both.
Written by Campus Rep Gena Crepault
Edited by Executive Assistant Addie Van Rijn