The weaknesses of our strengths

I recently finished reading a novel by Alain de Botton called The Course of Love. It follows the lives and romance of Rabih and Kirsten as they meet, fall in love, marry, have children, and shoulder on through the trials of life.

There was one passage in particular that really stuck out to me, grabbed me by the ears and simply would not let me go. I’ve copied it here below:

“Kirsten’s financial prowess is astounding. Rabih can’t believe the deal she has managed to secure for their new house. Rabih watches her with pride. He concludes that he is exceptionally lucky to be married to a woman so obviously adept at dealing with money.

Along the way he also realizes something else.

There may indeed be a side to Kirsten that is unusually alive to how others are doing financially and which aspires to a certain level of material comfort. This could be seen as a weakness, but insofar as it is one, it is intimately related to a strength. The price that Rabih must pay for relying on his wife’s fiscal talent is having to endure certain associated downsides as well. The same virtues that make her a great negotiator and financial controller can also render her, sometimes – most particularly when he feels anxious about his career – a maddening and unsettling companion with whom to consider the achievements of others.

In both scenarios, there is the same attachments to security. There is the same unwillingness to discount material criteria of success, the same intelligent concern for what things cost. Identical qualities produce both amazing house deals and insecurities around status. In her occasional worries about the relative wealth of her friends, Kirsten is, Rabih can now see, exhibiting nothing more or less than the weaknesses of her strengths.”

The weaknesses of our strengths. Isn’t that a beautiful phrase? It is real and raw and so very human.

So often in life I have focused on my strengths and other’s weaknesses. But strengths have weaknesses. Conversely, weaknesses also have strength.

If you are particularly proud of your work ethic, don’t forget the propensity that you may have to become a workaholic. If you consider your intelligence an asset, beware of the pride that so often comes tied to intelligence. Remember that the behind the brash and loud co-worker you find so annoying is a boldness and fearlessness that has taken them far in life.

Imagine the grace and compassion that would be multiplied if people started looking at the whole package. Not just the good or the bad, but everything – the imperfect, messy realities that make people, people. No one is all good or all bad – imagine the understanding that would spring up if we were to remember that there are no heroes or villains in real life.

I don’t know about you, but that’s a thought that gets me very excited.  

1 thought on “The weaknesses of our strengths

  1. This reminds me of a teaching I heard years ago at a leaders retreat. We were talking about giftings and how there is a vice behind each virtue. I enjoy the pastoral role – listening to people, lending support, giving counsel. However, if I let my brokenness into that area of gifting I will quickly find myself longing not so much to help and support other but to be the solution to their problems, the savior. Likewise, as an analytical person, I can just as easily get caught up finding fault and judging as I can envisioning and championing improvements.

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