This is my 12th grade German language teacher. Writing has been a passion of mine for over a decade now. When we wrote essays in school, my grades were average at best… until this teacher appeared.
His teaching method and philosophy was new to me. He did not enter the classroom with any script or guideline that most teachers follow to teach students the obligatory material. Sitting in his classroom was more like sitting under a tree in Ancient Greece, with a group of peers, listening Socrates speak. I still admire the intelligence and honesty in this man’s eyes… my teacher’s eyes of course, not Socrates’.
It seems like it was this honesty, realness, and rawness that he radiated, that made me trust him. This trust started being visible in the essays I wrote under his guidance. My grades skyrocketed and I developed a different style of and consciousness in writing.
His stoic attitude will always follow and inspire me in many other aspects outside of writing. His sophisticated way of talking, showed me the importance of gathering knowledge, questioning your knowledge, and then updating your knowledge. Your mind should never live in a static state. It should be moving, flowing, changing… it should be flexible and curious.
We all probably have heard of this quote at least once during our life on this earth. I never had the urge to analyze it because I mostly agreed with it. During a YouTube podcast someone mentioned it again and all the guests nodded their heads in agreement. In my head I thought of the scenario of being a guest on a podcast and the host asking me, “What is your opinion on this quote? Do you agree?”
What would I have answered? I never really thought about this quote deep enough to have an intellectual opinion about it. My answer would probably look like this, “Yes I agree a hundred percent. You know, we live in easy times and all humans are weak. The older generations are strong because they had to work hard.” This answer is not a sophisticated one. I would be disappointed of myself talking like this. While this scenario kept playing in my head I thought about the quote and the problems it carries with it. I want to further elaborate the problems I found.
Problems of the original quote
It may be that the author further explained the quote in the book. I want to analyze the quote on its own because this is how people find it on all kinds of media. The context is hardly mentioned.
Symptoms and Causes
One of the problems I have with the quote is that “weak” and “strong” are symptoms and not causes. The causes are not mentioned. What makes people strong in hard times and what makes them weak in good times? When we are talking about hard times, we are talking about times of discomfort, of involuntary activeness. This discomfort, this activeness, makes people strong and resilient, not only physically because of physical labor but also mentally because it is hard to know that you have to go to work everyday because you will not get paid. In hard times it is more difficult to just take one day off and the shifts are longer than in good times. With activeness comes knowledge, wisdom and the urge to create a better future for ones children. In hard times people cannot afford to just relax for hours, watch movies or shows, scroll on social media etc. The “strong” in the quote, therefore, could be replaced by “busy” or “active”.
“Weak” is also problematic because it does not mention the causes of being weak. I will not go deeper into the aspects within people can be weak – mentally, physically, educationally, morally, intellectually, etc. What makes people weak? The opposite of what makes people strong, laziness and inactivity. “I do not have to do it, so I will not.”This inactivity is mostly voluntary, which I will further amplify later on. Good times make people not feel the urgency of having to act every day and learn skills. I do not have to work physically or hunt so I do not need to work out and be in shape. The mental toughness is also in decline for the same reasons. Comfortability is the catalyst of inactivity. Inactivity is the catalyst of weakness, whether physical, mental or technical. Therefore, I would replace the term “weak” in the quote with the term “inactive” or “lazy” and the term “good” with “comfortable”.
Determinative Character of the Quote
Apart from the “cause and effect” problem, another problem is the determinative character of the quote. “Good times create weak men”, therefore, “I live in good times, I am a weak man”. Who decides what a good time and what a hard time is? If the economy of a nation goes well, the majority of its citizens live financially stable and peacefully, and they can fulfill their needs and entertain themselves in multiple ways, we could say that those are good times. Those good times would create weak men. The individual hardship of life is kept out of the equation. Someone could live in a comfortable time but be on the “poor” side of the economical spectrum. His or her life would be filled with different hardships than the comfortable life of people who are positioned on more privileged side of the spectrum. Somebody who is rich could be having health issues and go through a tough life full of pain and medication. The personal hardships of every individual define the content of their character and their toughness. In general, it could be true that good, comfortable times create inactive men or women. Taking personal hardships into consideration destroys the determinative character of the quote, which brings me to the solution and conclusion of my analysis.
The solution to the first problem of “cause and effect” was the replacement of the terms in the quote. “Strong” was replaced by “active” and “weak” replaced by “inactive”. Furthermore, I want to replace the term “good” with the word “comfortable”. Comfortability is the cause for inactivity and inactivity the cause for weakness. I will now present the lengthened quote with the replaced terms.
The solution to the second problem of the “determinative character” of the quote is in close relation to hardship. In hard times people had to go through involuntary hardship that made them strong and resilient. In comfortable times it is up to us personally to create our own hardships – “voluntary hardships”. The creation of a personal daily routine and the obedience of productive daily habits will add to the naturally occurring hardships of life that are present even in generally comfortable times.
As already mentioned, I interpreted the quote outside of its context in the book. This is how we find it in all kinds of social media. It has been weaponized by different ideological parties as a critique of society and governments. That makes it even more important to interpret, analyze and explain it. Terms like “weak” and “strong” need to be further explained. Finding the causes of those symptoms is essential in the later stage of finding solutions to destroy the causes of weakness and establish the individual and social basis for strength. One can be a strong man or a strong woman even in supposedly good, comfortable times, and vice versa a weak man or a weak woman in hard, uncomfortable times. It is up to the individual, even if it oftentimes does not seem like that.