President's Column

The Positive Psychology of Weaknesses

Paul T. P. Wong
Paul T. P. Wong, Ph.D., C. Psych.
Trent University

To the Western mind, weaknesses are seldom associated with positive outcomes. Just ask any positive psychologists in North America and they would likely consider positive weaknesses as a contradiction in terms.

As an Asian Canadian familiar with both Christian teachings and Eastern religions, I propose that more has been achieved through weaknesses than the world ever realizes.

The Suffering Servant that hung a cruel cross on Calvary has impacted the course of human history more than the mightiest emperor.

The Shakyamuni Buddha under the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya has brought comfort and serenity to more troubled souls than the most influential psychotherapist.

The little old man in India prevailed over the mighty British Empire through non-violence; his influence has extended to Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement in America.

More contemporary examples include Mother Teresa, Nelson Mendela, Billy Graham, Henri Nouwen, Dalai Lama and Dharma Master Cheng Yan. All these individuals have chosen the path of humility, self-denial, compassion and service to a higher calling.

Jesus once said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (The Gospel according to Matthew.18:3). What did Jesus have in mind? Aren’t little children the most helpless and vulnerable creatures?

The Apostle Paul said, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians, 12:10). How could any person delight in suffering and glory in weaknesses?

These questions point out the difficulty of understanding the positive psychology of weaknesses from a modern Western mindset. Perhaps, we can begin by pondering the hidden power of the gentle waves breaking against a giant boulder, or the energy inherent in the soft evening breeze.

Then, we can ponder the mystery of:

  • The blessings from fragility and sickness
  • The strength from helplessness
  • The comfort from mourning
  • The hope from dependence and trust
  • The purifying effect of suffering
  • The beauty of humility and meekness
  • The power of patience and endurance
  • The freedom of voluntary submission
  • The attraction of vulnerability
  • The richness of poverty
  • The oneness of solitude
  • The wisdom of silence

The world would become a more harmonious, peaceful and compassionate place if we can comprehend and practice some of above list of inconspicuous virtues.

Perhaps, the survival of humanity is dependent no so much on technology and military power as on the positive psychology of weaknesses.