Proverb – USA


“If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.”

I first heard this proverb from my father (Philip Katz) when I was 17 years old.  I recall a time period in my life that was extremely chaotic and stressful; SAT’s, college applications, schoolwork, and Ice Hockey.  While ice hockey has always been one of my greatest passions in life, our mediocre record didn’t seem rewarding for the amount of time that I had sacrificed to play.  The first time I remember hearing the saying came after we lost a close game. I was sitting in my room staring at my computer when I heard my dad tell me, “if it doesn’t kill you Jeremy, it makes you stronger.”  From then on out he said it to me a number of times, when I was frustrated with work or upset over a grade.  He first learned the proverb from his father (my grandfather) when he was in high school as well.  He remembers his dad using the proverb after he broke his leg trying to do a back flip off of a enormous boulder at a park in his hometown of Great Neck, New York.

He informed me that the proverb can be used in a number of situations, but all deal with something bad or negative that happens or could potentially happen to someone.  “It’s similar to looking at the silver lining of something,” as he puts it.  The proverb is trying to say that unless “it,” this problem or potentially harmful item is so powerful that it actually “kills,” it will make you a stronger and more advance person who will be able to contest future problems and will have a deeper understanding of himself.  Take for example my father giving me this proverb after I lost an crucial hockey game.  Losing the game wasn’t enough to “kill” me or even otherwise destroy my passion for the game or ability to play, but it was able to teach me not only the ways in which I individually could improve as a player, but also how our team could compete together and increase our chances of being successful.

The saying fits the traditional definition of folklore because it has no known author and is characterized by multiplicity and variation.  The proverb certainly expresses a philosophical outlook or world-view of (some) Americans.  I would classify it as free phrase as the saying could certainly change, and likely has evolved over time while still possessing the same meaning.  Furthermore it is undoubtedly trying to convince somebody of something and thus an example of rhetoric.  Just as folklorists have called proverbs the “wisdom of the ages,” (Lecture 2/5/08) I can see how one might use this proverb as beneficial insight into coping with problems and understanding how one might react to negative consequences.