5 Things Our Culture Considers Weaknesses That Are Actually Strengths
Unpopular opinion: I freaking love crying. Every time I'm done, I feel a little more in touch with my feelings and what I want to do about them. But unfortunately, I feel compelled to be careful who I cry around. Crying is one of those "weaknesses" that are actually strengths, but our culture doesn't treat it that way. Instead of celebrating the many facets of what it means to be human, we've prized a few supposedly superior tendencies and treated the rest as ones to avoid. But if we accepted all people and embraced all sides of each person as potential strengths, we'd be able to make better use of our gifts.
The traits we consider strengths and weaknesses are tightly tied up with gender norms that consider women to be "weak" and men to be "strong." Emotions, sensitivity, and devotion to our families, for example, are stereotyped as typical traits in a woman and undesirable traits in a man; what's more, no matter who they're applied to, they're always considered weak. By punishing men for possessing them, we contribute to toxic masculinity, and by assuming all women possess them and that they're "weak" traits to have, we contribute to misogyny.
Here are some qualities we often deem weaknesses that are really strengths.
A recent study in the British Journal of Social Psychology found that when people are shown photos of crying and dry faces and asked who they'd work with, they preferred the dry ones, reflecting a stereotype that people who feel emotions are less competent. Crying or otherwise showing emotion is often interpreted as a sign that you can't handle a situation, when in fact, it can actually mean you're processing the situation and understanding it on a deep level. While emotions, like thoughts, can become distractions if we let them, they also help us make decisions and connect with others.
More generally, being sensitive — whether to physical stimuli, social injustices, or other people's feelings — can earn someone the label of "crazy" or "overreacting," when in fact they're being perceptive. Highly sensitive people tend to be observant, kind, and socially conscious.
Kids and adults alike bully one another by using labels like "weird" and "strange," as if being either of those things is bad. People are considered uncooperative if they don't go along with what a group wants or loners if they don't like to do what their friends do. But people weren't made to be all the same, and it's because of our uniqueness that we can bring new ideas to the table. Studies have found, in fact, that the more diverse a group is, the better their work.
4. Devotion To Our Families
A recent study described in Harvard Business Review found that people were less likely to hire women simply because they guessed they might have kids soon. And a New Hampshire man says he was allegedly fired from his security guard job for missing a shift to attend his son's birth. (New Hampshire is an at-will state, meaning an employer may terminate an employment relationship at any time for any reason. Said Anthony Salerno Jr. of Salerno Protective Services in a statement according to the Concord Monitor, "Being shrouded in confidentiality we are unable to comment until all business with Mr. Austin has been concludes. SPS is not in the practice of releasing employees for reasons stated in the article published in the Monitor but must be cognizant of the product we give our clients!") But family is just as important as work to many people, and it can make you a more thoughtful, responsible, and understanding person in the workplace and elsewhere.
5. Disabilities And Mental Illnesses
Everybody faces some sort of challenge, and like any other challenge, a disability or mental illness can make you stronger. It gives you a different perspective, which is valuable in of itself, forces you to come up with alternative ways to do things, and builds strength that can help get you through more challenges in the future.