Strength and weakness: It has always been hard for us to find the balance point. We can become conceited if we overly value our strengths; however, we might lose confidence by overemphasizing weaknesses. Having lived in both China and the US, I have noticed some differences: Western thinking mostly puts strength in front of weakness when it comes to self-evaluation. Cultures in the Western world focus on valuing our strengths to help us become more capable in what we are good at. However, Eastern thinking suggests that it is good to remind ourselves about  our weaknesses, so that we can keep humble and grow spiritually. With these different views, where can we find the balance point of strength and weakness? I would like to share some of my views about how this issue relates to building resilience.

The idea of strength and weakness reminds me of a traditional Confucius teaching – keep yourself humble by focusing on your weakness. As a child, my strengths were rarely praised by my family. Instead, I was consistently told that, “the capacity of a wooden bucket was determined by its shortest block,” which is an analogy saying that the worth of a person is determined by one’s weakness, not strength. This Confuciuan ideology had kept me humble for years.

However, after living and studying in the US, I realized that this ideology can, in some ways, be dangerous and unhealthy. It forbids not only confidence, but also any spiritual rewards. In behavioral psychology, it is thought that giving rewards is the best way to reinforce, or increase, certain behavior. For example, if our boss raises our salary for working hard, then we are more likely to work harder. Moreover, rewards do not have to be external; they can also include intrinsic payoffs such as the feeling of accomplishment after achieving something. For instance, after solving a challenging math problem, we might be encouraged to work on more problems (not the case if you hate math!) Even though there are no material rewards, the feeling of accomplishment can still reinforce certain behavior. Following this theory, it is hard to motivate oneself without proper rewards. Therefore, always being humble and never being able to be proud of our strengths is surely not the right way to become stronger.

Nevertheless, the ideology of Confucius is not entirely wrong. Although the extreme mindset of never acknowledging our strengths may not be productive, paying attention to our weaknesses is definitely helpful. Without realizing our weaknesses, we become more vulnerable when adversity strikes. If we encounter turbulence that we are unprepared for, we can be hurt, and we may become passive toward changes. We may begin to feel that fate is controlling our lives, and find it difficult to remain happy when we experience troubles.

But what if we take control over fate? By paying more attention to weakness, we can actively look for changes before they strike our lives. By improving our weaknesses, changes that might have been viewed as adversity will be less likely to bother us. In such way, we are truly building resilience. If we could spend less effort embracing our strengths and more on acknowledging and addressing our weaknesses, we might be able to foresee adversities and prepare ourselves to deal with them. Wouldn’t that be a balance point that could make life more enjoyable?