‘I wish she’d been strong enough to leave’
‘I would hope people would have the strength to not start smoking in the first place’
‘I wish he had been strong enough to beat that addiction’
These aren’t empathic or even sympathetic statements. They are moral judgements. There is a tendency to equate moral good with strength. Which makes sense. Strength is what it takes to extricate yourself from a bad situation, right? You have to dig deep into your character and find that iron will to see you through. The problem is that this leads you to the converse idea. That anyone who cannot leave an abusive situation, or beat an addiction or do the morally acceptable thing is essentially weak.
It’s bullshit really. If you take people from two sides of any situation – say someone who has successfully quit smoking and someone who hasn’t or has tried and failed – they will be made up of equal part strength and weakness. The difference isn’t a flaw in their character. It might be good timing, or a bit of luck, or some great support, or less stress, or any of the myriad of things that separate one person’s life situation from another person’s.
If you happen to be one of those people who has successfully quit smoking (like I have, a couple of times now) you are acutely aware of how it doesn’t make you better or superior or stronger than anyone else who hasn’t. It’s luck, more than anything. That statement might seem like it’s minimising the hard work I put into quitting and sometimes it was hard. But as any addict knows, all it takes is the opportunity to smoke again at exactly the wrong moment and you would have failed. Because that’s what addiction is. All it takes is one moment in the midst of a really bad day or a crisis and you are back to square one.
That person who couldn’t leave their abusive partner, or that person who committed suicide, or that person who is addicted to whatever it is they are addicted to is not weak by default because their end result doesn’t equate with a morally good and acceptable value. That person is probably the strongest person you know.
There is no weakness in the human spirit.