Character is Developed through Suffering

By | August 28, 2021

[August 28, 2021]  It has been a long-running theme here on my leadership blog that a leader’s character can only be developed through hard times.  But I’m going out on a limb today and now arguing that good character can only be developed through suffering.  That’s right, only by suffering can the best in us truly come out.

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired and success achieved.” – Helen Keller, born blind and deaf, became an author, political activist, and lecturer

First, allow me to explain what I mean by “suffering;” a term that has been misused and abused so much that its meaning is confused.  For simplicity sake, suffering to me is anything, either physical or mental, that creates a significant unpleasant feeling, emotion, or sensation.  Philosophers have attempted – at great lengths – to explain it to us but here we treat it as something that evokes great stress in a person.

The idea that suffering affects us in different ways has long been recognized, long before the written word.  In some of the earliest writings of the Bible, we see in Matthew 13 the parable of the sower.  Two of the three soils that failed to produce a crop represent people who did not know how to handle suffering.  The lesson?  Suffering will make you grow bitter or better, depending upon how you handle it.

Early in the Iraq War, I was one of the first to point out to the media that combat did not only have negative effects upon those who fought.  Combat made most of us better people, more resilient, better at prioritizing the important things in life, and stronger mentally.  True, some soldiers were hit hard and never recovered but overall the impact was more positive than negative.  For the vast majority, suffering made us better people.

Yet when we try to protect people from suffering the effort can backfire.  When we protect others from the trauma of life, we also prevent them from strengthening their emotions and place them on a path that leads to great disappointment, frustration, and emotional weakness.  Better to let others experience the pain of tragedy than to stop them from experiencing life.

Good leaders will always protect those they can from unreasonable suffering.  But great leaders recognize the value even in suffering; for it strengthens the soul, the mind, and the body.  Only through it can we be a better person.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

18 thoughts on “Character is Developed through Suffering

  1. Randy Goodman

    If this is so, Gen. Satterfield, how come Gen. Mark Milley (that you write about today) – who should be suffering – isn’t any better than a girl scout?

    Reply
  2. Fred Weber

    Gen. Satterfield makes a great point that should not be overlooked. “Good leaders will always protect those they can from unreasonable suffering. But great leaders recognize the value even in suffering; for it strengthens the soul, the mind, and the body. Only through it can we be a better person.” Pay attention to this quote.

    Reply
    1. Pooch T.

      Yes, and those who don’t suffer will never be fully developed. The idea that doing physical work makes us stronger is the same idea.

      Reply
    2. Erleldech

      Fred, good point, but I’m not sure what you’re getting at.

      Reply
      1. Tomas Clooney

        Look at the situation today in Afghanistan. The leadership lesson just keep on coming our way. It is up to us to take the time and energy to cull the key points from it. What we see has to do with the suffering of those there but also of us who are humiliated by the incompetent leaders we have; Joe BIden, Mark Milley, “where is” Kamala Harris, etc. They are all out to lunchy.

        Reply
  3. Rev. Michael Cain

    Great quote:
    “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired and success achieved.” – Helen Keller, born blind and deaf, became an author, political activist, and lecturer

    Reply
  4. Max Foster

    I like the idea that Gen. Satterfield connects the dots between the hard experiences in combat to being a better person. The fact that so many came out of the battles better people is a connection many of us would not have made. In fact, the typical narrative is that those in combat come out all screwed up. Now we see that maybe this media narrative is all wrong.

    Reply
  5. Jeff Blackwater

    Ouch, suffering, who wants to do that? Well, that is why so many blacks in the US don’t give a crap about actually working to get what they want. The mean old white man will do it for him.

    Reply
  6. Rusty D

    Once again, Gen. Satterfield hits the nail on the head with this article. Those who are not punished for their sins (suffering) will continue to do those bad things. Like Joe Biden who plagiarizes, lies, and ignores what is happening in front of him. He was never held accountable for his immoral behavior (suffering). Now look where he is and he continues to lie.

    Reply
    1. José Luis Rodriguez

      Right Rusty D, good analysis. Joe Biden should resign immediately. Those who support him have blood on their hands and should resign also.

      Reply
      1. British Citizen

        That’s not going to happen because they are all without character, else they would step down and let someone who can do the job, actually come in and do the job.

        Reply
      2. Greg NH

        I agree but these people are too swelled with power and its trappings.

        Reply
  7. Harry Donner

    Excellent article, Gen. Satterfield on a topic most folks would rather ignore. We would all rather sit back in our easy chairs with our dog at our feet, drinking a cup of coffee or bourbon, than to actually suffer to make ourselves better. It takes work, sweat, and tears. Nothing will substitute. That is why so many in our mist like Joe Biden have no character and are coward fools.

    Reply
  8. Bryan Z. Lee

    I just hope that doesn’t mean thru the suffering of others like Joe Biden makes others suffer for his so-called ‘character.’

    Reply
    1. Gil Johnson

      Naw, I don’t think so. It means YOUR suffering (read that as sacrifice, hard times, and getting the crap beat out of you on occassion).

      Reply

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