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The Gift of Struggles, Resistance, Germs and Disagreements

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Christopher Sullivan via AP

I recently heard a liberal politician talk about the struggles that he had to go through to overcome his family’s poverty. He then shared his commitment as a politician to help others not have to go through such struggles. No struggles! The struggles of life are what make us stronger. They are a gift on the journey to true maturity. You can’t give people maturity; they earn it.

Too many Americans have forgotten that life has always been difficult. It is by struggling through life’s challenges and overcoming obstacles that optimism, confidence and success are earned. Optimism comes from overcoming obstacles. With a history of surmounting those challenges comes the belief that one can meet the next obstacle successfully. Confidence comes from real achievement, not excessive compliments from parents, teachers or counselors that don’t match reality. Growth occurs by experiencing and bouncing back from failures, not just our successes.

A good parent does not take disappointments away from their children. Saying “no” frequently is one of the most important jobs parents have. Spoiled children contribute to spoiled, weak adults. Gifts received are seldom appreciated as much as treasured items that we worked hard to secure.

A helping hand is often appreciated, but too much “caring” can create dependence instead of a healthy self-sufficiency and resilience. It’s through mistakes that some of our best learning occurs. Our job is not to take away the pain and frustrations that life provides. It’s our job as parents to encourage children to press on and let them know that we believe that they can find their way through whatever they have to face.

As much as liberal politicians may feel they care, building excessive government entitlements that take away life’s struggles and create dependence are no healthier for a society than a parent who over-protects and spoils a child. Such parents wonder why children never seem to have the confidence to leave and live on their own. Politicians should understand that overindulging citizens does the same thing; they stay dependent!

At the gym, we exercise using resistance from stretch bands, weights, or equipment to produce stronger muscles. Easy doesn’t do it. We “workout” in order to improve our health and increase our strength and resilience. A good workout is meant to be hard enough to make a difference. Life’s struggles can be seen in the same way.

It's amazing how many of us also seem to seek a sanitized world, free of as many germs as possible. We wash, apply sanitized liquids, and avoid dirt. But such a sanitized existence does not give our bodies an opportunity to create the antibodies that can fight off the germs that are out there. As a result, Americans who travel out of their sanitized bubbles are more likely to get sick in germ-rich environments they can’t control.

Colleges want safe spaces to protect sensitive students from objectionable messages and conflict. The answer to hate speech and conflict is not less speech and safe spaces. It is more speech and more dialogue across our meaningful divides. It is through being confronted by difference that we learn to defend our own opinions, find clarity from those who disagree, and possibly even impact others. Freedom is not freedom from discomfort; it is an invitation to be an active citizen in this messy but treasured republic we call America.

Abraham Lincoln always had a way with words. He asserted, "The worst thing you can do for those you love is the thing they could and should do for themselves."

So, as we approach the end of our year, may we be thankful for the struggles, resistance, germs and disagreements that have helped make us stronger and more resilient to face a new set of problems in 2020. With the challenges we have faced in 2019, we are all stronger than we might think. So, what do we say to a new year that is just around the corner? Bring it on!

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