“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” Kahlil Gibran – Suffering
What is the most beautiful way to reshape yourself through suffering?
When we endure suffering, our character changes. Sometimes we grow weaker, less confident, and more resigned that life has it out for us. At other times, our character is strengthened. Suffering makes us resilient. It expands our capacity to persevere. We become empathetic, vulnerable. It crowds out our fears and opens our heart and mind. The unique way each of us navigates suffering determines the limits and possibilities of our personal fulfillment.
Join Steve and Dan Fouts – founders of Teach Different and twin brothers with over 50 years of teaching experience – along with Marisa Diaz-Waian- Founder and Director of Merlin CCC- a public philosophy non-profit in Helena, Montana, to discuss the role of suffering in shaping our character, enriched by the Teach Different Method.
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Dan Fouts 00:00
Hello, Steve and Dan Fouts here from Teach Different. We’re veteran teachers from the United States bringing educators together from around the world to learn a simple conversation method, which we model on this podcast for you. Teachdifferent.com is your home to an online community of educators who are working together to master the art and science of conversations. Don’t forget to check out our dynamic coaching programs offered through our proud partnership with the Conversation Project at convoproject.org. Let’s keep the conversations going together.
Dan Fouts 00:36
Well, welcome everybody to the Teach Different podcast. We’re very excited tonight to have a quote from Khalil Gibran whom I had never heard of before this particular episode. He’s a Lebanese American writer, poet, and visual artist, who has a really interesting quote with a lot of themes embedded in it – suffering, character development, and more. We’ll get to his very interesting quote in a minute.
Dan Fouts 01:08
We have a guest tonight from Helena, Montana, Marisa Diaz Wayne, who will introduce herself in a moment and share some of the cool work she does in the public philosophy space in Montana. We’re very much looking forward to this conversation. For those unfamiliar, we’re going to work through the Teach Different protocol by starting with the quote. Then, we’re going to work with the claim of the quote, try to interpret it using our personal experiences as sort of fuel for our interpretations, and then we will push against it and think about a counterclaim to it. Another equally valuable way of looking at the world that creates this cool tension between our original interpretation. In that way, really good questions surface because we have to figure out what our beliefs are, weigh evidence, and come up with criteria. Basically, do a lot of good philosophy stuff. Finally, we’ll say our goodbyes. There you have it.
Here’s the quote. I’ll say it twice and then Marisa will hop in. It’s a two part quote, so we’ll be repeating this a few times in the episode. “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” Marisa, welcome.
Marisa Diaz-Waian 02:56
Thank you very much. I’m happy to be here. My name is Marisa. I run a community philosophy nonprofit in Helena. It is called Merlin like the bird or the wizard, both cool. Our organization is probably best described as a form of philosophy in and by the community. It’s just a really unique and intentional way of doing philosophy together and learning from it with one another. It’s really fun for all ages and all backgrounds. I couldn’t be happier doing the work that I do. The founding of the organization has an interesting background that, I think, in many ways is directly related to this quote. I can share that at another point.
Marisa Diaz-Waian 03:49
Read the quote again, Dan. I feel like we need to keep reading this one.
Marisa Diaz-Waian 03:49 – Claim
The quote is what we’re wanting to dive into.“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” There’s so much going on in this quote. I love this one. The first portion, “out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls,” at least the way I’m taking it, it seems that there’s a statement being made about some kind of important connection between the suffering, and however we’re meaning that, and then one’s character, or soul. Maybe something similar to “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” but I think it’s way more meaty, nuanced and complex than that. The second part, “the most massive characters are seared with scars,” is interesting, because I feel like there’s a connection that’s being made between the evidence of suffering in some way and in one’s character soul. So, maybe, on the one hand when we come across someone who’s been through significant suffering the scars are apparent. I think I like this one better actually. The scars are an indicator of a life well lived. If you don’t have any scars, then you better put some work in to gain some. Suffering produces strong souls, the evidence of which we can see in some ways in which people move through the world. That’s kind of how I take this initially.
Dan Fouts 05:47
“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”
Steve Fouts 05:55
Yeah. We have a similar quote in our library. “There’s no success without hardship.” It’s not the same. This one is more of an internal one, but it’s really saying to me that in order to be great you have to go through it. No one becomes great unless they’ve had to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and maybe even worse. That’s what makes people great; bad things happen to you that you have to overcome. That feels like the claim. What do you think, Dan?
Dan Fouts 06:54
Yeah, I like both of those interpretations. I think they are really great. I was looking at the first part, “out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls,” and thinking about how this plays out in an audience. For me, it’s high schoolers. They’ll look at this quote, and most of them will probably think of strength in a physical sense, but the adjective is for souls. I can see sitting with this and the students a little bit, talking about what it means for a soul to be strong. How does that happen? What does that look like? We’ll see where that goes. That was my first thought, to interpret some of the words, because there’s a lot going on.
Steve Fouts 07:57
Yeah, what is a soul would be a worthwhile start. Marisa we talk about putting the quote on the board. If there are words in the quote that are worth unpacking, then circle them and don’t rush into the conversation. Just isolate those words, and talk about a soul. What is a soul? They become these mini conversations, but they’re really important. If you’re trying to come up with a claim of an author, you have to make sure you’re all on the same page, speaking the same language with people. I think that this quote has a couple of words to circle.
Marisa Diaz-Waian 08:46
I’m so glad that you said that, because when I was thinking about this quote, I had several areas that I underlined, or double underlined, because I wanted to go back to those and explore them a bit. One of those was the phrasing of “out of suffering.” To me that sounds really important to the overall idea. It implies an effort based emergence, which I think also helps me define, or point at, what soul might mean. It’s sort of the something that’s developing and coming out of the ways in which we respond to various things in the world and situations, like suffering. Coming out of suffering is a matter of deep internal work, and how might that relate with what a soul might be in this context. I don’t know how that sits with either of you.
Steve Fouts 09:47
I like that. I just came up with… Yeah, go ahead, Dan.
Dan Fouts 09:49
I was just going to build on that a little bit. Where I’m looking at it now, I think it’s suggesting that out of suffering, as you say, emerges a soul. There’s something about suffering that strengthens us. Now questions. We like to ask questions, and questions naturally flow from these quotes. I already have one here. How does suffering strengthen us? It seems like it weakens us, or that is what a lot of people would think. But, this claim seems to be that it makes us strong. What is the quality of suffering that contributes to that strength?
Marisa Diaz-Waian 10:42
I think “out of” is pretty critical to that, because if we’re just sitting in suffering and never emerging from it, I think that might lend itself more to how that produces strength. The “out of” seems to imply that there’s something happening with the ways in which we’re facing or grappling with really challenging things. I’m also thinking about what’s left out of this intentionally, or I’m assuming intentionally, since he’s writing it.
Dan, you mentioned the strongest components being interesting, and I’m interested in that as well. The use of the word massive is really curious to me. He doesn’t use good or best here. They seem to whisper in the background, but it seems very purposeful, that he didn’t want to attach a good or a best component. It’s an interesting choice of words, even if it’s massively awesome it can be really overwhelming. It could be this dude, or gal, who is arrogant and a massive a-hole. Not flattering or desirable. Why massive? A massive earthquake, or a heavy, massive thought. It seems that there’s an importance to the footprint on oneself that this experience, and coming out of it, points to.
Steve Fouts 12:32
Yeah, massive is an interesting word. I don’t know why he would use that word, but there’s something about suffering. I go back to Plato a lot, Marisa, I mean, that’s just kind of my thing. Whenever we talk about suffering, or hardship, I think of Plato’s soul, reason, spirit, desire, shepherds, dogs, sheep. This idea that we have this part of our soul that’s not desiring the physical world. It’s not necessarily our rationality, but it’s our spirit. He talks about spirit being that part of our soul that grows when we’re treated unjustly, or when we do something wrong. When we do something wrong, and we shame ourselves, it’s like our conscience.
Now, this quote does not seem to talk about morality, per se. It’s talking more about how there’s a dynamic that you have to go through something, and overcome in order to become something bigger than you would have without it. I always tie that back into morality, just personally, when I try to understand it, because many times suffering is something that is unjust. You’re a victim in a way. It doesn’t always have to be that way, though. There are tornadoes, and other natural disasters, and unfortunate incidents, but all too often suffering comes from someone else’s moral decision. I can’t move it to Plato as much as I want, but I would love to see if any of the kids would come up with a morality to this.
Dan Fouts 14:59
Just to add on to morality as being the source of suffering if there’s an injustice. An untimely death of someone could cause suffering. This is something a lot of the kids, and just people in general, I’m sure your crowd as well Marisa, could connect with. There’s something about the death of a loved one, and the accompanying suffering, where you emerge stronger as a result of it, if it’s processed in a healthy way. The second part, “the most massive characters are seared with scars,” brings to mind the emotional scars that you might have which builds your character in a way that is irreplaceable. That’s one angle to take with this.
Steve Fouts 16:08
Why is it that some people suffer and become these massive characters? This constant overcoming they have in their character that they build makes them almost superhuman. We also could visit any prison and talk to people who are very scarred. Not that they don’t have massive characters, maybe they do, but not all people who suffer, end up becoming bigger and better because of it. I would love to know what makes the difference? It makes me want to know more about how you should deal with suffering, which maybe is not mentioned and addressed in the quote. I don’t know if that’s making sense.
Marisa Diaz-Waian 17:21
No, it definitely is to me. In fact, something you said earlier about the other quote that you had in your coffers. What was that one again?
Steve Fouts 17:29
“There’s no success without hardship,” from Sophocles.
Marisa Diaz-Waian 17:37
I do think there’s something important about the difference between the word challenge and the word suffering. Oftentimes, when we think of overcoming challenges, or going through them, there seems to be a more direct line. To your point, the use of suffering is really interesting. There are some people who experience suffering, and are not stronger for it at all. Maybe they’re weaker, or more fragile. Maybe they have suffered and lived through it, but then turn right back around and contribute to the suffering of others. Is that a legitimate example of the strength of character ‘s soul? That’s another, sort of, sidebar. What is it about some individuals, and groups of individuals that are working together, that can sort of emerge? I’m thinking about how the Stoics offer some insights about what kinds of attachments we have, and how we hold our experiences with this sort of really rigid, tight grip. I’m a fan of the loose grip approach to a certain extent, because it allows things to move a bit, and you and opportunity to move with them.
Steve Fouts 19:00
You brought up the Stoics. I think that they would get into morality with suffering. They associated suffering with wisdom, and a knowledge that you develop. Now, I’m thinking of another quote. This is Escalus. I know both of you have heard of it, but I’m going to see if I can remember it. “Even in our sleep, pain, which cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart, until in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.” It’s suffering. Maybe we achieve a greater wisdom somehow, and maybe an intelligence, that we wouldn’t have if we hadn’t suffered. I just threw in intelligence. We haven’t really talked about that yet, but I’m just trying to get at it from different angles.
Dan Fouts 20:21
I think the wisdom part is an interesting angle to this. Strength of a soul has to do with wisdom, and, I would add, vulnerability. Depending on what the suffering is, it can make certain people more vulnerable and open. It breaks their heart open, but doesn’t break it apart. They become more vulnerable to other people, and they connect more with other people emotionally, or even intellectually. The strength is in their capacity to connect with other people.
Steve Fouts 21:11
Yeah, it helps with compassion.
Steve Fouts 21:14
If you grow up in poverty, and you see someone on the street, it’s different for you. You could say that is wisdom in a way, because it’s an experience that you’ve had, and you’re able to connect with someone. But, I feel like that’s emotional, not just wisdom. That’s just something almost human, like empathy.
Marisa Diaz-Waian 21:44
To me, it’s actually a kind of wisdom. Sometimes I have a hard time completely separating intellect and emotion. I think there can be wisdom in that as well, potentially.
Steve Fouts 22:00
The spirit and the reason are our kindred souls. Back to Plato.
Dan Fouts 22:08
Would you stop going to Plato all of the time?
Marisa Diaz-Waian 22:11
No, no, don’t stop. I love Plato.
Steve Fouts 22:15
There are worse things than to keep referring to Plato.
Marisa Diaz-Waian 22:18
The spirit is also something that moves us. I’m thinking of the tripartite, and that it’s really necessary to cultivate the spirit, because without the spirit, the wind to move us, and the wisdom and reason, we can’t move in the right direction.
Steve Fouts 22:36
Did we get a good counterclaim?
Dan Fouts 22:39 – Counterclaim
We kind of started one. Marisa, you mentioned that some people suffer, and then the way they react, if I’m remembering you correctly, you said, they inflict suffering on others. They use it for a very negative outcome. You mentioned that, correct?
Marisa Diaz-Waian 23:02
Yes. I think as an addition. The other one was that sometimes people don’t come out stronger for it, which I think Steve mentioned earlier.
Dan Fouts 23:11
Then, the counterclaim is, out of suffering have emerged the most revengeful souls.
Steve Fouts 23:20
Read the quote, again.
Dan Fouts 23:21
“Out of suffering have emerged, the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”
Marisa Diaz-Waian 23:30
It does seem like there’s a kind of resilience there, not to play that word out, because I know it can have many meanings, but just in a very basic sense, there is some ability to bend and flex even against the strongest of winds.
Steve Fouts 23:47
Marisa Diaz-Waian 23:50
I’m thinking about the seared. I’m sorry, the last portion of that quote was the strongest of characters…
Dan Fouts 23:59
“The most massive characters are seared with scars.”
Marisa Diaz-Waian 24:03
I’m the one who pointed out massive earlier, and now I’m going with the strongest. I’m thinking about the use of the word seared with massive. That’s interesting to me. What does it mean? Is it a kind of branding? Are you being branded like cattle? It involves scarring, and perhaps some suffering, but it’s not the same as charring or slaughtering. They’re different in character and outcome. I’m just sort of curious if there’s another question that comes from the massiveness of character relying to some degree on the character of the scars themselves. Are all scars equal? Must they have been administered or received in the same ways, is it a matter of collective scarring, or is there something important about that, that is connected to our strength of character and the kind of suffering we’re undergoing?
Steve Fouts 25:02
Yeah, great question. That goes back to that agency issue. If you grow up hit by five tornadoes in Kansas and had to uproot your family, that is a different type of suffering than growing up and having your uncle steal your wallet at the family reunion. One is human, the other is supernatural. I think those are going to feel different inside, and overcoming them is going to look different. Personally, and I don’t know how you all feel about it, but the ones that we do to each other as human beings, to me, are the crippling ones. I don’t know if there’s a worst type of suffering. Not only do you have the pain, and the anguish of whatever happened to you, but you had an expectation of someone else treating you well that wasn’t met. It’s like a double whammy. Whereas, when the tornado comes, you just hide. You got me thinking this way. What is suffering? What’s the context of it?
Dan Fouts 26:38
The emotional versus the physical is what I go to as well. There are physical scars. Looking at the quote again, “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” He’s playing with the physical and the non-physical in a very ingenious way, I think. The emotional scars that are left are the ones, to your point, Steve, that leave the most indelible marks on people and shape our character significantly.
Marisa Diaz-Waian 27:22
Yeah. I pointed earlier to the formation of Merlin. Are you okay with me sharing, because I think it’s maybe connected a little bit. When Merlin was conceived, I was in grad school working on my Master’s in philosophy. I was at that state where I didn’t really know what the heck I wanted to do with the philosophy, I just knew I loved it and I wanted it to be part of my life. I was also, and had been for many years, the sole caregiver for my father who was struggling with Parkinson’s, which is such a brutal disease. It’s just so unforgiving. When he died, I was in grad school, and I was absolutely devastated. This man was my teacher, my mentor, and my friend. There was definitely suffering that was happening, like the floor dropping out. I think in that time, there was a new sense of urgency that certainly developed for me.
Something really interesting happened with philosophy. In the deepest moments of despair, as I was in the pit, all of this training that I had, both formally and informally, in philosophy, other fun stuff just sort of came to the surface very unexpectedly, in a way that sort of carried me through this in a way that I hadn’t anticipated. It revealed a very practical side to itself that I knew was there, but the way that I got to experience that was big. I sort of changed my trajectory, and decided I was going to start a nonprofit when I finished my MA. That’s what I did and have been doing ever since. The reason I’m mentioning this, outside of the suffering component, is why did I end up going this route? How did I get out of that? I still struggle with this one. This one’s always going to be close to my heart. Sorry, it’s a tough one. What is it about coming through that experience, that you could take this deep pain and loss and turn it into something beautiful?
Steve Fouts 29:58
I think you are.
Marisa Diaz-Waian 30:02
I’m trying, yeah.
Steve Fouts 30:03
You are. Look what you’re doing. I’m just an outsider, but I think that you really are doing something with that. You’re not resting on your laurels, or trying to cover yourself up. You’re doing public philosophy. You’re starting an organization. You’re trying to reach out to people. I’m applauding you right now.
Marisa Diaz-Waian 30:35
It is a delight to be doing something I believe in and love. It’s like this ongoing process of grieving for me as well. Private, albeit public, it is a way for me to navigate and move through that grief. I am trying to tie it into why is that possible for some and harder for others and the various other variables? For me, I think, having a kind of foundation and way to think about and grapple with really challenging experiences that are a part of life, was at least for me, very critical in making that move.
Steve Fouts 31:23
To bring it back to what Dan was saying, about your vulnerability. I’m talking too much. Did you want to say something, Dan?
Dan Fouts 31:31
No, I was actually just going to jump in there. Because you chose vulnerability, you allowed yourself that strength that allows you to move forward to build an organization, and connect with people, many of whom are probably struggling with other things. Now, they have an outlet, because you were courageous enough to express what you were feeling. It’s fantastic. It’s beautiful.
Steve Fouts 32:11
You could have taken another route, and I think a lot of people do. You can shut yourself down, shut it out, go along your merry way, and not address these things. You really can do that. You can live a life like that. Now, I’m starting to think of our mom, Dan’s and my mom. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but we lost our sister and our father in 2020. Within six weeks of each other. I’ve been closer to my mom since then. She would just break down watching TV. I didn’t, but she would share this with me that it was part of her process. She had to feel the suffering, and to do that she had to go through that. She had to do it. She would do it in front of people. It’s just a way to address something. Whereas, you think that you might look weak, in reality you’re embracing this suffering and becoming something bigger, because you’re not running from it.
Dan Fouts 33:47
My mom is actively helping people. She was a nurse for 40 years, Marisa, so she gets her energy from helping other people. From these tragedies she’s not said I’m done with that. She’s accelerated her serving of others in the same way that you accelerated your path into giving back to society through public philosophy. She’s trying to do it through nursing and support. It’s turning that suffering into something beautiful.
Steve Fouts 34:33
Yeah. Who’s got an essential question? Well, we’ve already had a few. This has been a lot. It’s been good.
Dan Fouts 34:55 – Essential Question
Marisa, do you have a question? We’ll see if you have a question.
Marisa Diaz-Waian 35:03
I have a lot of questions. In terms of figuring out how to phrase it as an essential question, I would welcome help from both of you on how that’s normally done and your approach. I’m not just throwing them out.
Steve Fouts 35:20
Feel free to, though, because they’re authentic. They come from the conversation. That’s it. Read the quote again, Dan.
Dan Fouts 35:36
“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” I have one. Why do some people sublimate their suffering into beautiful things in life? Why or how can some people emerge from suffering?
Steve Fouts 36:08
Where others don’t, they are broken.
Dan Fouts 36:11
Where they’re broken.
Marisa Diaz-Waian 36:14
To add to that. Why does it always come down to just an individual trudging through? What’s the role of community and others in this process of helping transform that kind of anguish and pain and suffering into something beautiful?
Steve Fouts 36:32
That’s good. What kinds of resources need to be there that make it more likely that you’re going to take it? I want to answer that one. The resource of your brain. That’s just my opinion, of course, having people around is also very important. Personally, when I’m grieving, or when I’m suffering, I prefer not to have people around or to share with them. We just do it in different ways, I guess.
Marisa Diaz-Waian 37:24
Actually, Steve, that’s very much my style as well. I am a big internal processor. Before the nonprofit came to be, and actually still, just in general, I process my emotions solo. It’s not typically my style to do external processing with other individuals. When you said the brain, that’s where philosophy was that tool and mechanism for me. It’s the thing that helped me think through and really address and identify what was going on inside of me. I wasn’t of the constitution to do that kind of super deep stuff with others until I’ve at least done it first myself, by myself.
Dan Fouts 38:15
The beautiful thing about philosophy is it gives you those tools to do that, because the thinking you do in philosophy is the thinking of life. Whatever you’re experiencing in life, you can process through doing philosophy. What a great, amazing tool it is. It is really beautiful.
Dan Fouts 38:43
Well, Marisa, it’s been great having you on the Teach Different podcast. This has been fantastic. This was a really deep quote, and I think it touches the hearts of many. We appreciate your vulnerability, your story, and the great work that you do. Thank you very much.
Marisa Diaz-Waian 39:03
Thank you so much. This was a pleasure. It’s already over. I can’t believe we’re already done. I was just getting started.
Steve Fouts 39:09
It’s been almost 50 minutes. Wow. Yeah, thanks so much. Thank you.
Dan Fouts 39:15
Thanks, everybody. We hope you’re walking away feeling energized by some great ideas, and have enjoyed the chance to step back and have a conversation about things that really matter using the teach different conversation method. Continue your journey with us at each teachdifferent.com and join our community of educators who are mastering the art and science of conversations, or explore our coaching programs offered as part of our proud partnership with the Conversation Project at convoproject.org. Let’s keep the conversations going together. Take care