statue reaching for the sky

Image by augapfel

Friedrich Nietzsche, in my humble opinion, is the most important modern philosopher, and by a very long way. It was he who spoke about the crisis of values of the modern West. And, most famously it was he who proclaimed that, “God is dead”. You owe it to yourself to read the passage in The Gay Science where this is said. The statement itself is from the mouth of the madman, who goes searching through the village with a lamp alight at midday searching for God, declaring that “we have killed him” and asking whether we will be adequate to the task of replacing Him. It is really a fantastic piece of prose (even in translation). And it’s only about a page long. If you get a chance to read it please do.

To understand the emotion behind Nietzsches writing – and at its best it is incredibly powerful – it helps to know that most of his adult life he was in pain. He felt very powerfully the need to ‘triumph over ourselves’. My personal opinion is that this explains much of his advocacy of the “Overman” – the person who transcends themselves by their own efforts – which Nietzsche proclaimed.

It was Nietzsche who also said, “That which doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger”. This is just plain silly. Any of us with a permanent injury know this to be the case. And the worst injuries may not be physical. I think we can understand this statement when we know Nietzsche was in pain – and it may even lead to us having great compassion for him. But it is still plain silly.

To say, “That which doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger”

  • doesn’t admit our vulnerability. It is talking about some invulnerable, bodiless being that none of us have the luxury of being. And,
  • it denies our connections to the past. We carry our past with us. The past traumas can often be healed, but this is a very different thing to denying the past.

The attraction of this statement, I think, is that we like to challenge ourselves. We enjoy getting better at things and attaining a sense of mastery. However, to do this to my way of thinking means knowing our limitations and responding to all the strengths and weaknesses of what we are working with (clay, paint, our relationships, a corporation – whatever it is has both strengths and limitations). Mastery is attained by understanding our vulnerability and working with our situation. To try and triumph over ourselves means to split ourselves into the judge and the judged. This can lead to extraordinary internal conflict – and this is usually a distraction from what it is we are wanting to master.

If we can accept our vulnerability and be sensitively in touch with our situation, then I think we will attain mastery of any skill more readily, and also be more compassionate people.

Also,  I have finished the text of a free report called “It’s Not About Success“.  It’s a guide to satisfaction through authenticity.  It is much longer than a normal post of 300-500, the report is about 17,000.  It is full of practical things you can do to experience the core of who you are and living from your core (authenticity).   I plan to release the report in a few weeks as a PDF, to promote a course I will be offering, on living more authentically.  Any comments you have on it would be very valuable to me.  Thanks.

7 Comments to “That Which Doesn’t Kill Us . . . Can Leave Us Maimed”

  1. it’s great to see that despite your admiration for nietzsche, you also look at him with a critical eye.

    you say the writing is beautiful, even in translation. what translation are you referring to? in german, it is truly beautiful language; often makes me think of the writing of martin luther, who revolutionized the german language. the translations i’ve read haven’t done justice to this amazing writer.

    what i find interesting is that despite all his “god is dead” protestations, he actually is very much a mystic.

  2. Josh says:

    Very interesting article. But I believe the concept of being made stronger by past injuries really does hold true. Perhaps not physically, because, as you say, there are many people with permanent physical injuries who cannot do things they once could. But those same people have found a strength INSIDE themselves to continue on in a situation that I daresay they could not have conceived for themselves before the incident. This strength of will is something they did not have until they HAD to have it… or the malady eventually takes their life (either in real terms or through loss of a will to continue).

    Likewise for psychological trauma. Of course it can weaken resolve and give a sore spot, or even cause a spiral of self-destruction. But perhaps you aren’t taking the ‘incident’ to its logical conclusion. If a psychological trauma starts a spiral of self-hatred or depression or even suicidal thoughts there are still only two outcomes: Eventual decline into madness and/or suicide, or recovery and rejoining the rest of the world. Psychological death.. or psychological rebirth and with a much higher tolerance for further trauma.

    I believe the tenet holds true. That which does not kill us, definitely makes us stronger.

    But still, I find the discussion quite interesting. Well done.

  3. Evan says:

    Hi Isabella,

    I like the Walter Kaufman translation.

    I do think Luther and Nietzsche do have a very similar feel to them.

    And I do think too that Nietzsche was very much a mystic in his own way. And he would have no doubt insisted that it was his own way.

    Thankyou for your comment.

  4. Evan says:

    Hi Josh,

    I think you mean that the idea of ‘that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger’ does hold for some people. As you say, there are two ways to go and some people ‘choose’ prison and/or death. I am aware that this is the logical conclusion.

    As you say we may carry physical injuries. I am very optimistic about people’s ability to heal. However I think this means acknowledging our vulnerability.

    I also should say that I am often in awe of what people do cope with and ‘overcome’. I do not have major trauma in my past. Those who do I am usually amazed by. As I have talked with people I have almost always been surprised by how well they are doing. The resources of strength and resilience that people access often are remarkable.

    Thanks for your comment.

  5. Barbara says:


    Sometimes when something we read or experience strikes us powerfully, it is time to step back, really look at one’s reaction and find it’s origin.

    I think you did that effectively with this quote and changed it just enough to reflect what is real for you.

    I had a similar moment as I read here, but not the main quote. I can hear Nietzsche’s quote and find no consolation there. It has an element of ‘being done to’ by something or someone out of our control that can, like you said, have life altering effects. I can also hear the hopeful. Hard to know which court I want to be in.

    What I’m going to look at however is “the judge and judged”.

    P.S. Still re-reading those 17,000 words (and all the ones behind them!) Will get you some feedback soon, hopefully not nearly as long!

  6. Evan says:

    Hi Barbara,

    Thanks for reading my report. I look forward to your feedback.

    I’d also love to hear what you find by looking at the “the judge and the judged”. I realise this may take some time but when you feel you’ve come to some conclusion or discovery I’d like to hear what it is if you’d like to tell others.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  7. […] Evan Hadkins (That Which Doesn’t Kill Us . . . Can Leave Us Maimed) […]

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