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What is Strength of Will?

by Dan Garro 11 months ago in humanity
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Nietzsche on strength and honesty

Truth and Lies...

“How much truth can a spirit tolerate, how much truth is it willing to risk?”


When was the last time you lied to yourself? When was the last time you manipulated the truth, twisted it, sugarcoated it to make a situation or circumstance bearable, to make yourself comfortable?

Many of us lie to ourselves in some capacity on a (more or less) regular basis. It’s common to hide behind the covers of a false narrative when we don’t want to face reality or hold ourselves accountable. We manipulate the truth, we downplay our choice, our freedom to act and think as we choose, and find something to blame to make the situation tolerable—to make ourselves tolerable.

We tell ourselves we’ll be happy when we get X (some accomplishment or goal) and focus on the end rather than facing ourselves. When we get what we sought and are still unhappy, we blame circumstances, other people, and the system we find ourselves in rather than hold ourselves accountable or responsible.

Too afraid to be who we really are, we convince ourselves that we actually are the person we see in the mirror. We pretend that we know the face under the mask we wear. Our fear of change, of being on our own, causes us to conform and hide from ourselves in the group.

We make ourselves into victims and rationalize our inability to change, to become who we really are. We complain about the world, about our situation, and hidden in our complaints are subtle and not-so-subtle rationalizations protecting us, comforting us and making us feel better.

“Complaining never does any good: it comes from weakness. Whether you attribute your bad situation to other people or to yourself…it does not really make any difference. What is common to both…is that somebody is supposedly to blame for your suffering.”


Strength, Honesty, and Authenticity

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote often about the connection between strength of spirit or will and the ability of the individual to tolerate truth.

Nietzsche thought that those who are weak seek explanations for their suffering that remove all blame from themselves. They hide from their freedom, they underestimate their ability to decide how to live their own life, and instead find ways to make their inaction, their weakness, tolerable.

“The strength of a person’s spirit would then be measured by how much truth he could tolerate, or more precisely, to what extent he needs to have it diluted, disguised, sweetened, muted, falsified.”


I always found the connection between strength and the ability to tolerate truth fascinating. It makes sense—if we want to be ourselves, to realize our full potential, we must face ourselves, face the truth, and start taking responsibility for ourselves.

Freedom & Responsibility

Nietzsche thought we are free when we take control of our lives and are responsible for who we are, for our thoughts and actions - This is your life and only you can live it.

“What is freedom anyway? Having the will to be responsible for yourself.”


To be strong we need to be honest with ourselves. The only way to start accepting ourselves and confronting our fears is to be honest with ourselves about who we are, about what we want and need, what we cover up and hide…in short, we need to face ourselves first.

We need to be honest about the lies we tell ourselves, about which truths we fear the most.

“For I regard nothing more precious and rare today than honesty.”


We must be honest with ourselves if we want to live an authentic life. It is only through honesty that we will discover who we are. We will never live a life that is right for us, that is our own, if we continue to lie to ourselves. We need to develop the strength to be responsible for ourselves, to hold ourselves accountable and realize that what we do and think establishes who we are.

“When it comes to spiritual matters, you need to be honest to the point of hardness.”


Nietzsche understood how difficult it is to live authentically. It is not easy to stand on your own, to take full responsibility for yourself and always be honest.

In the end, this life is yours and yours alone. It’s never too late to start living your own life. So ask yourself: When was the last time you lied to yourself?

Thanks for reading!

Please check out my author's page and these related essays: Living Underground; The Habit of Living; One Must Imagine Sisyphus Happy; and Philosophy Teaches Us.


About the author

Dan Garro

Philosopher/Educator/Writer/Podcast Host & Producer

I'm a philosophy professor, avid reader, I love writing, and I co-host/produce The Existential Stoic Podcast.

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