The World Breaks Everyone

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places. But those it does not break, it kills.” Wrote Hemingway.

Over the past few years, I’ve witnessed many a breaking. And I concur – many are stronger at the broken places. I’m not saying that it was a fair trade, mind. Not saying that the strengthening is equal in value to that which was lost. Assuming that would be naive. The sad reality is that the balance is rarely positive. Hemingway uses the quote in the context of a man losing his family – I don’t think anyone sane would argue there’s a coming back from that. But there’s… Something. Life can go on.

What’s interesting to me is to look at what the people who do get stronger do, versus the people who don’t.

Those who get stronger attribute it to a decision. At some point after the braking, they decide to go on with their lives, to carry – voluntarily – whatever burden their breaking saddled them with, into the future.

They didn’t decide it would not be painful, or easy, or even pleasant. That’s not a choice that’s available to us mortals. But they did decide that regardless of how hard it was, they would go forth the best they could.

Those who don’t get stronger, they attribute it to a characteristic. (Or, more often, lack thereof.) They say they aren’t strong enough, courageous enough, smart enough. They didn’t have the right genes or upbringing.

I’m no optimist. My formal education is in the sciences, and science is deterministic. Genes and place of birth combine to produce a baseline of talent, intelligence, skill. It’s possible, but incredibly hard, to move the needle.

(Incidentally, people hate to hear this. Scientists keep trying to disprove it, all the time, and to their great dismay – if they are honest scientists – they can’t. No-one is happy about this. Most people would like to think that they are infinitely malleable. But this is how things are.)

But you can always choose to use what you’ve got. That’s a decision, not a trait. A lot of people with massive talent, intelligence, strength, whatever – they get broken, and they’re done – fate has laid them low. Other, seemingly less “capable” people, they get broken, and they decide to carry on, often under great pain and strain. They are the ones who get stronger.

The world is going to break you. It breaks us all. Are you going to decide to move forward, regardless? Or are you going to let fate lay you low, and find a justification for it?