When I was a little boy I wanted to grow up to be big, strong, and tough. Back in the sixties I had a lot of role models to fashion myself after. There was Jim Brown, Dick Butkus, Ray Nitschke, and Jim Otto. These guys were the epitome of strong tough guys. I wanted to grow up to be like one of them.
Quite a few of these tough guys would flex their biceps when they were on camera. This was true for all of the body builders, and professional wrestlers of the day. I equated “toughness” with the size of one’s biceps.
I remember flexing my young arms and looking at them only to notice that I didn’t have any bulge at all. How was I going to get tough? My friend Rodney and I decided that we needed to start an exercise program. We started doing push-ups, sit-ups, and running. It wasn’t too long that we both started to notice a bulge when we made a muscle. Oh Boy! I’m getting tough!
I went to show my dad that I was now “tough”. I went to my dad and I said “Dad, look at me!” then I made a muscle for him. My dad said “That’s nice son, but let me tell you a secret; toughness doesn’t come from here,” He pointed at his sizable bicep, “but toughness comes from here.” Then he pointed at his head. “It is better to be tough, than strong.”
“But dad, what’s the difference, isn’t strength, and toughness the same?” “No son they aren’t.” He replied. “What’s the difference then dad?” Son, it’s good to have physical strength, but you need a strong mind, and a strong will in order to apply that strength.” “All of the strength in the world will not help you if you are not mentally tough enough to push yourself when you really need it.”
As I grew up I kept noticing that what he said was true. It wasn’t physical strength that made me stand up to, and fight the school bully. When I was a wrestler it wasn’t physical strength that made me keep going in the third period when I was dog tired, and it definitely wasn’t the size of my biceps that kept me getting up each morning to go to work.
There are many names for toughness. Some people call it perseverance, some call it persistence. Some people call it devotion, and others call it guts.
I prefer to think of it as being “not fragile”.