An Ode to Strength — Esther Ou

This post is in honor of all those who show me what strength means; you are my aspiration everyday, and I cannot thank you enough.


When you think of strength, what do you imagine? What comes to mind?

Is strength loud, or is it quiet and subtle?

What makes something “strong?”

I think we often define strength in terms of power relations, trying to quantify dynamics– strength in numbers, comparative or hierarchical. Much of it appears to be based on a consequential action or outcomes. We’ll hear, “He is stronger than me, because he can lift more at the gym,” “She is in the most powerful position in our company, making all the important decisions,” or “The United States is stronger than most countries due to its international influence, its position on the Security Council, and its economic power.” (Sorry, I was a political science major.)

But strength, as with everything in life, is complicated and multidimensional. Are we talking about physical, emotional, or mental strength? Strength in a group or personal strength? Influence?

I guess what I’m trying to answer is this: what is the truest essence of strength. Or in other words, what does it really mean truly have strength or be strong?


Before I continue, I want to share what inspired me to write this post. Here’s just a few of the myriad examples of strength in my own life.

1. For my best friend who stayed up with a girl who self-harmed, in order to speak truth of love, support, and encouragement.

2. For the best friend who mustered up with courage to see a counselor when she battled depression and anxiety, instead of living in passivity and “saving face.” She stood against the silence surrounding mental health in the Asian community.

3. For moments in which I surprise myself to speak in another’s defense when a friend was utterly disrespected, insulted, and deeply hurt, rather than hesitate with my tongue held back.

4. For every social worker who refuses to give up in advocating for the disenfranchised, despite every system turned against them.

…and there are so many more reasons.


This is my conclusion:

The true essence of strength involves two major foundational principles. The first is doing the inherently good, and the second is the way by which that can be done — seeing our full dignity and divine identity in ourselves and others. Our full humanity. Strength can be personal and quiet, where we do things that are difficult, challenging, or push us out of our comfort zone, because they are good and right. Even the smallest decision is transformative. It is self-care and self-respect. What is easy for one can be seemingly impossible for another, and those individual differences should never be overlooked. Similarly, strength can be loud or apparent, refusing to give up. It is having agency to determine one’s life– choice. It is standing in solidarity with another and refusing to be passive or silent, protecting and adhering to what is just and good. In the famous words of Desmond Tutu, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

True strength is an invitation to be fearless, even for a moment, to abide by inherent goodness. That is where strength and courage intersect.

At the core of it all is love– love for self, love for others.


Strength is love.
Love is strength.


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