What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

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You know the old adage, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. The current climate of our culture has presented a great opportunity to review this concept.

We are facing trying times. Adversity. Adversity presents ample opportunity for growth. Often times, we miss these opportunities. We fail to recognize them in the present. We fail to achieve the mindset required to take advantage, grow, and become stronger in the face of uncertainty and fear.

This message is not intended to promote carelessness. To simply run around being irresponsible with the logic, “if it doesn’t kill me, it’ll make me stronger.” Rather this logic is meant to encourage you to be intentional during this time to make sure that regardless of the outcome, each of us that is fortunate to come out of the other side of this pandemic will be stronger for ourselves, for our families, and for our society.

This concept will be incredibly important for the well-being of our society as a whole because many of us are going to become “remote misses” during this pandemic.

Remote Misses

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book David and Goliath, he discusses a topic known as remote misses. Remote misses is a theory developed when reviewing the results of World War II by Canadian psychiatrist J.T. MacCurdy and is explained in his book The Structure of Morale.

During World War II the Germans sought to overtake London. The British military, panicked by their conclusion that there was nothing they could do to stop it, predicted that the attack would leave hundreds of thousands of people dead, millions injured, and mass chaos that would result in an economic downfall. This is exactly what the Germans were hoping for.

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Just a few years later the bombings began. Just as the British military predicted, thousands of people died and were injured and a million buildings were left standing in ruin. What the British military didn’t get right was the assumed panic amongst its people.

As the bombings continued, the people of London became resilient. One English psychiatrist wrote that as bomb sirens were alarmed, “Small boys continued to play all over the pavements, shoppers went on haggling, a policeman directed traffic in majestic boredom and the bicyclists defied death and the traffic laws. No one, as far as I could see, even looked into the sky.”

While Londoners were known to be a tough bunch, this wasn’t just a miraculous behavior unique to the people of London. As Gladwell puts it, “Civilians from other countries also turned out to be unexpectedly resilient in the face of bombing.”

The Structure of Morale explains why. MacCurdy says that when a bomb falls, people are divided into three different groups. The first group is the direct hits. The people who die. Of course, the deaths of these people are incredibly tragic and worthy of mourning but the people that fall into this group no longer have an effect on society. They themselves can’t cause fear and panic because they are no longer alive. As MacCurdy puts it, “the morale of the community depends on the reaction of the survivors.”

The survivors make up the other two groups, near misses and remote misses. Near misses, “feel the blast, they see the destruction, are horrified by the carnage, perhaps they are wounded, but they survive deeply impressed.” Impressed meaning these people can be left in a shock or stupor from their traumatic experience.

Near misses do have an ability to create and spread the assumed panic for a society going through hard times. How this group responds is very important.

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The third group is the remote misses. Remote misses are the people who are essentially unaffected. The bombs have fallen far enough from them that the consequences are much less than the first two groups. As MacCurdy puts it, “a near miss leaves you traumatized. A remote miss makes you think you are invincible.”

Gladwell asks the question, “why were Londoners so unfazed by the blitz.” The answer is that when thousands of deaths are spread out across 8 million people, there are far more remote misses than there are near misses and direct hits.

As MacCurdy puts it, “We are also prone to be afraid of being afraid, and the conquering of fear produces exhilaration.” After such events as a bombing are over, “the contrast between the previous apprehension and the present relief and feeling of security promotes a self-confidence that is the very father and mother of courage.”

COVID Remote Misses

The concept of remote misses is important to our current pandemic because of that courage MacCurdy was talking about. That courage is going to be required for us to rebuild after COVID has finished running its course.

Everyone is sitting at home in apprehension because the economy is falling apart, thousands of people are dying, and the timeline for when things will return to normal is very uncertain.

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While these are undoubtedly tragic and traumatic times that will certainly have a butterfly effect on our society for years to come, the truth is that we are going to be okay. Not only will we be okay but as McCurdy puts, “the same event can be profoundly damaging to one group while leaving another better off.”

That’s right. It’s possible that some people could be “better off” after this is all said in done. The truth is that while hundreds of thousands of people will die from COVID-19, billions of people are going to survive. Billions will be remote and near misses.

It is going to be the response of these groups of people that will be essential in our recovery. How the near misses handle their trauma will play a big role in how we respond as a society. How resilient our remote misses become will determine how our economy will bounce back.

Those of you who fall into the remote miss category should not take this as a message to continue playing in the streets while the “bombs” are going off. We are faced with a different enemy than the Londoners were. Those of you who will be remote or near misses should instead gear up to play a role in stitching this thing back together again. That is your obligation. That is your contribution to society.

Preparing and Rebuilding with Strength

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Being a remote or near-miss can promote the development of the resilience required to recover from this pandemic.

To do our part, we must prepare. As MacCurdy says of the Londoners, “They were in the middle of a war. They couldn’t change that fact. But they were freed of the kinds of fears that can make life during wartime unendurable.”

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How can you free yourself from the fear that will make this time unendurable? How can you accept and lean into social-distancing in a way that allows you to become the stronger and better version of yourself that is needed as this pandemic shakes out? How can you prepare to be the strongest remote or near miss version of yourself? As stoic author Ryan Holiday so brilliantly said of this time, “You have been gifted time. What are you going to do with it?”

Are you going to sit at home in fear? Are you going to spend your time watching the news, binge-watching Netflix, and wasting countless hours on social media? Or are you going to take this time to get your mental, physical, and emotional health in check so you can not only make it through this time with more ease but better contribute to the rebuilding of our society after all this is over? Will you decide to be a light during and after COVID-19? There is a good chance you will be a near or remote miss. How will you take advantage?

As Gladwell states in his book, “Too often, we make the same mistake as the British did and jump to the conclusion that there is only one kind of response to something terrible and traumatic. There isn’t. There are two.” Which response you choose will play a big role in how we get through and recover from COVID-19.

Health writer

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