“Out of life’s school of war, what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.”
- Fredrich Nietzsche
Nietzsche was a noted existentialist and nihilistic, a philosopher who basically boiled his view of life and the world to "Shit happens," something he didn’t coin but certainly could have if he were privy to late 20th century slang and all its trappings.
It also made him the guy you probably didn’t want to get stuck talking to at a dinner party. That said, as a philosopher, he said lots of stuff that was later restated, documented and spread around the world for all to experience just how intelligent, arrogant, existential and nihilistic he was.
And apparently he uttered, wrote or otherwise originated the above quote in 1888, and over the past 135 years, we’ve whittled and sanded it down to, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”
Unless you’re a philosopher yourself or just a Nietzsche buff (who would also be someone you may not want to get stuck talking to at a dinner party), you’ve probably heard or used one or more of his quotes in conversation, term papers, or presentations without even knowing it.
Nonetheless, the above quote is now just a tired aphorism, flippantly tossed around in daily conversation, often as an afterthought and accompanied by a defeated sigh. I’m sure you’ve endured plenty of annoying situations and people that produce just such statements on a regular basis, usually when they’ve run out of things to say.
I’m sure in his day, Nietzsche was plenty annoying in his own right (I mean, c’mon, the dude was a philosopher after all), but he did say some interesting and deep stuff. Let’s explore a small sampling of some of his “lighter” musings:
You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, it does not exist.
We should consider every day lost in which we have not danced. And we should consider every truth false which was not accompanied by at least one laugh.
He who has a why can bear almost any how.
Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.
Admittedly, I’m not sure what that last one means, but I thought it sounded intelligent and clever, so I included it.
Of course, given his view of basically everything (again, he was a nihilist), Nietzsche could “go dark,” providing loads of quotes that never made it into your favorite self-help book or as a headline for motivational posters at the middle school.
Nonetheless, I could (at the risk of sounding like a Nietzsche lover) go on, not because I know a lot about him; rather, because I currently have his Wikepedia page up on my computer screen. But I’ll spare you that agony and get to my point, which is this: I think I’ve finally found a completely appropriate and practical use for, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”
As a disclaimer.
Let’s say I have a disease or condition that will remain unnamed for purposes of this discussion. Let’s also agree it’s one that needs attention and, to date, I have not found relief.
Suddenly (likely during a station break between Jeopardy! and Wheel Of Fortune), a commercial comes on for a hypothetical new drug, Myconerogalisterama, that not only treats the very unnamed condition I have, but it will give me the overall vim (and/or vigor) of the folks I see in the commercial: those riding old-timey bikes, ballroom dancing (sometimes in their living room and often in front of a bank of windows for all passers-by to see), navigating small rowboats in park ponds, and playing lifetime sports like bocce and pickleball at a world-class level, all while smiling ear to ear.
And it all looks great for about 15 seconds, until we get to this part:
“Myconerogalisterama is meant to treat mild to severe (insert unnamed condition here). Consult your physician before starting on a Myconerogalisterama regimen. May exacerbate allergic reactions to things like household chores, scented candles and Arabian horses.
Other side effects include head lice, color-blindness, apathy toward one’s in-laws, sporadic veganism, unplanned, non-anger-driven yelling, test anxiety, compulsion to wear grey clothing, aggressive online purchasing, poaching big game, a compulsion to shove things between couch cushions, desire to determine square roots without a calculator, thoughts of 1970s ventriloquists (and their dummies), burning (of all types), swelling, general fatigue, sudden bursts of energy, toe fungus, cravings, lethargy, tone-deafness, and a propensity to make plans and cancel them at the last moment, among others.
Do not take if you’re pregnant, planning to be pregnant, were once pregnant, know someone who is or has been pregnant or who has talked about pregnancy; if you’re short, tall, a type 2 diabetic, have been diagnosed with any disease that made you say, “This sucks,” recently purchased an SUV or pickup, or have been exposed to annoying people who like to quote Nietzsche.
Although rare, some Myconerogalisterama patients find themselves mysteriously elected to office. Visit our website to see if your insurance carrier provides this prescription with zero-dollar payment. (Spoiler alert: it probably doesn’t.)
Now, without sounding flippant or dismissive, maybe it would be easier to simply say this:
“Myconerogalisterama: because what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger. Consult your physician before taking.”
Just a thought.
DISCLAIMER: This piece was NOT meant to discount people with chronic disease conditions who require innovative therapeutic treatments. Neither is it an indictment of existentialists or nihilists (because they’re already doing that to themselves).
© 2023 David R. Haznaw