Let’s set the scene.
You are a pretty good human. You’ve got the majority of essential human components, and they work within the bell curve of human normalcy. Your brain weasels are present but fairly well mannered, and your past, while clingy, usually just likes to go for walks or skips through the park. Most days, it does not actively try to unmake you.
Cool, you think. You’re mid-marathon. You’re on track, doin’ okay, plodding or sprinting or hopping or however it is your specific human race is run towards your mile markers.
And then outta nowhere, someone is like “Hey, remember that time that all human misery was yours? Didn’t it make you strong?”
Plot-devicing, man. It happens to all of us.
So you stand there, staring at the insolent son of a bitch who broke your stride and gave the past a bag of bricks to carry as it clings to you.
“No,” you say. “No, it didn’t make me stronger. You’ve got the idiom all wrong. ‘Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ isn’t referring the actual thing that tried to kill you. I don’t go around punching people in the face and then patting them on the back for how strong they now are. ”
No, the truth is that expression should be more like “whatever doesn’t kill us necessitates the creation of coping mechanisms that allow us to wall ourselves off from similar hurts, unless the initial hurt came a lot closer to killing us than not, in which case you’ll likely never fully recover and even if you do, it may still take a long damn time to heal to the point we can work on our defenses.”
But that’s much harder to fit in an activewear advertisement.
And this is so goshdingdang important in stories. Strength is so monumentally essential in our heroes, because it’s something we can all share. We may not be able to cast fireballs or pilot a spaceship, but every single one of us has been tested, and most of us have failed at least once.
Because strength NOT some impenetrable fortress of sheer willpower. Human strength is riddled with portcullises and bricks that need repointing and only about 3000 calories of willpower to burn on a good day. Heroes are no exception, though they may burn more calories, and may have better-kept fortresses.
So if you’re gonna come here, trip me up mid-race and chuck a bunch of bricks at my head, you best believe I’m gonna start bobbing and weaving and chucking bricks right back or else I am going to look like Joe Pesci from Home Alone.
And if a kids movie about endearingly inept robbers can get human strength right, I expect everyone else can wrangle it as well.
If you can’t manage that? Don’t test me. Don’t test my heroes. Go find a brick first, and examine it. Imagine what it would feel like to drag it or to dodge it. Then try again.