How much strength do you have in reserve? How much resilience to difficulty? When does a torrent of potential injury turn into actual harm? Where does resistance collapse into capitulation? Why are you weaker than I am or, conversely, why am I weaker than you? What insult makes us laugh or tips the scales into tears and decompensation?

The lucky among us face few true tests of these dimensions during our lives, but there are few of us who are lucky. It may even be that the lucky among us strive to feel stress just to feel, while the unlucky spend every waking minute trying to diminish the rain of blows life can mete out.

Stress and strain are as diverse a set of measures as any in the human experience. Physical stress, so well born by athletes, defeats those of us who have no particular capability to run, leap, pull, punch, throw, swat, jump, crunch, dive, dance, twirl or fly. Mental stress can often be born well by those with no physical ability at all and can bring down the most astonishing Olympian.

By analogy, the following diagram graphs stress against strain. A stress is administered to a system, whether an iron bar or a piece of plastic, a human bone or flesh, a mental grocery list or a math theorem. “Material,” whether synapse, bone or flesh, goes through elastic tests all the time. If the elasticity is exceeded, permanent deformation (or learning, to put it differently and more positively) can occur. However, lurking beyond deformation is permanent injury, fracture, capitulation.

Stress Strain Curve

The history of life on this planet – and in the universe at large – is one marked by stresses that have crushed some of us, while strengthening others, have imploded stars and created new galaxies, have taken some species to extinction while allowing others to multiply beyond numbering. We are all on the cusp of unendurable weakness, but we strive on.

We are all frail; what can you endure?

Featured Image


Author: makingsenseofcomplications

I have an academic background in literature and, separately, science. My career has been in industry in positions of increasing responsibility assisting in the drug development process - one of the most amazing intellectual pursuits of the human mind, among many other amazing intellectual pursuits. I am interested in films, philosophy, history, art, music, science (obviously), literature (also obviously), some video gaming, human behavior, and many other topics. I wish there was more time in every day because we have a world that is full of amazing phenomena that are considered too superficially by too many. Although my first and last names are fictional, I think I believe in all of the stuff you read here, although I retain the right in perpetuity of changing my thoughts about anything written herein.

One thought on “Frail”

  1. True, however history shows that for everyone/everything there is a certain threshold. For some it is quite high, which shows in better endurance and eventual improvement for some is lower so the breaking point comes real fast. Despite altitude, it is not infinite and most importantly for us humans when it comes to mental stress, lots of times feels like “breaking” (I’ve felt like it, countless of times) but I’ve recovered becoming stronger and moving forward. Thank you for reminding me that 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s