I was reading an old classic the other day – ‘Of Mice and Men’ by John Steinbeck. It follows the tale of George and Lennie and their quest to find work during the Great Depression in 1930’s America.
In the book, they are treated rather badly by the owners of the ranch and (spoiler alert) things don’t end well.
I studied this book at school and one of the themes we looked at was power – who had the power? How did we know?
One telling component was how much or little someone spoke. If they were mostly silent and stoic, they were the ones that seemed to have power over everyone else. Lennie, by comparison, was open and honest and spoke a lot, and he was portrayed as weak and ‘simple’ and at the mercy of the others, despite his immense physical strength.
So, the idea of ‘strong and silent’ has weaved its way through our global narrative. We see it in books, TV, film, and media. Cowboys in Westerns silently sizing up a room; superhero’s staring defiantly not saying a word; characters in violent films being severely hurt but carrying on without a whimper. If you are silent and just get on with it, you are the strongest one in the room.
So, strength has become synonymous with silence. In our collective understanding it goes hand in hand with valour and bravery and courage.
How ridiculous. And how damaging.
I now have hundreds of conversations with clients that all follow the same pattern:
‘Have you told anyone how you feel?’
‘No, I don’t want them to think I am being stupid or weak-willed.’
And the mindset keeps us quiet. It keeps us fighting our own mental battles completely on our own. It creates the potential to spiral, to feel alone, to not know what else we can do.
Meanwhile, often there is a whole raft of people waiting to help, and a whole other boat load that understand because they are going through it too.
Strength is not silent, and I can prove it.
Let me ask you a question: is it harder for you to keep your anxieties, worries, darker thoughts etc to yourself, or it is harder to formulate them into words and entrust them to someone else?
Invariably, the latter option seems like the hardest one. It takes more strength to say how we are feeling out loud, then it does to stay silent. But telling someone else is where the connection and understanding begin, and where the help can start.
Strong is not silent. It is much, much more than that.