Reading time: 498 words, 1 page, 1 to 2 minutes.
I often hear people say, “That which does not destroy me (or kill or murder me) makes me stronger.” It’s quaint, but it’s wrong. German is my first language, so I’ve always been dismayed that the full impact of Nietzsche’s quote has been so mangled in translation.
Not to put too fine a point on it but Friedrich Nietzsche was German and did not speak English. What he said in German is, “Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich starker.” The important word that is usually mistranslated is ‘umbringt’.
The irregular verb transitive ‘umbringen’ is variously and erroneously translated as murder or kill. Yet, in German, murder is ‘mord’ and the word kill (or to kill) is ‘schlagen’ or ‘töten’. This might seem like splitting hairs. It’s not. In fact, it’s very important, especially for young people still growing and grappling with life. In fact, it’s important for all of us because it can be so helpful on a daily basis.
Let’s face it; few of us are often threatened with death or destruction or murder. Yet, all of us every day are faced with situations that threaten to overcome us.
And THAT is the proper translation of ‘umbringt’ the literal translation of which is over (’um’) and bring (‘bringt’). Obviously, the literal translation (bring-over) is inappropriate and indicates how difficult it is to translate words from one language, culture and mind-set to another.
What Nietzsche meant is, “that which does not overcome me, makes me stronger” and I’ll go so far as to say, “that which I refuse to overcome me, makes me stronger.”
It’s important because every day, in fact, many times a day we are faced with some petty annoyance or minor inconvenience. If we allow ourselves to be ‘overcome’ by a petty annoyance or minor inconvenience, we allow ourselves to be enslaved by it. I cannot say that strongly enough so I’ll repeat it. If we allow ourselves to be ‘overcome’ by a petty annoyance or minor inconvenience, we allow ourselves to be enslaved by it.
However, if we resist and refuse to be overcome then we learn and grow and become stronger. And, the more we recognize and resist enslavement by daily petty annoyances or minor inconveniences, the more we learn impulse control, the easier it becomes next time. Practice makes perfect.
The more we learn to resist ‘flying off the handle’ the more we grow and the more impulse control we learn the less we are enslaved by everyday petty annoyances or minor inconveniences. Believe me; we’ll get plenty of practice every day and in every way.
And, THAT’S what Friedrich Nietzsche meant.
April 12, 2014
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