All posts in the Psychology category

Life’s Challenges : Are You Rough, Or Are You Tough?

Published January 9, 2015 by vishalvkale


This is a statement that is commonly stated, and is almost a truism nowadays… “Everyone Faces Challenges”. While it is true that everyone faces challenges, the fact remains that some people face a far higher degree of challenges that others. Further, there are challenges, and then there are challenges… meaning, not all challenges can be stated to be of the same level of severity. 

How can you compare a person who has studied in street lights with one who has had a comfortable privileged upbringing? How do you compare a person who has brought up an entire family of 10+ people alone? I know 2 such people personally. How do you compare a person who has every benefit with one hasnt had that pleasure? How can you compare a person who has not had luck going his or her way with others? {It happens- howsoever much may you deny it. Some people are luckier than others, fact} How can you compare a person who is not as intelligent with one who is? How can you compare a person who is not ready to sacrifice on values with one who is? How can you compare a person who has to fight through every single day all alone {I know of 3 such people} with others? 

How can anyone say that the child of a labourer, studied at night, worked in dirty places at daytime, getting beaten, sweared at {nice sweet words like MC, BC, B-DIke, K***e, etc}, who faces a drunk father, an uneducated mother and these problems to graduate and postgraduate has faced the same challenges as the child of an upper middle class executive who has a room, a bike or car to himself or herself, all the books desired, education in an exclusive top notch school whos fees can feed the entire family of the labourer for months? Who is assured a job due to societies perceptive idiosyncracies and biases as well as family contacts? 

Fact of the matter is that some people face challenges that are far in excess of other people, who tend to extrapolate their experience and make statements on all. Some people face a degree of challenge that most other people cannot even dream about. Please dont belittle their struggles in life by saying that everyone faces challenges… What most people call challenges are in reality only slight ripples; these people have no conceptualisation as to what a challenge really is. As a people, we should grow and learn to appreciate these differences in severity, and thank the Lord for the Luck we have been blessed with.


Moving on, people react differently to challenges life poses to them. To use popular phraseology, some people face them head-on with the right attitude, while others buckle under. We commonly state that some people have fire in the belly, that they overcome the negatives life poses to them.  But this general statement hides some good, some ugly truths, which manifest themselves upon closer examination. 

It is a core psychological concept that attitudes are active, in that they are the external manifestations of your core values. This, I am afraid, is an established psychological fact.  The human’s external behaviour is a core function of these deep seated values- and that includes attitude, which is determined by the deep seated features. These values are what that determine the output that occurs. Attitudes are an evaluation and action – based; the base of these evaluations are the values that you hold dear. 

Values relate to Esteem, Power, Social Status, Security, Morality, Conformity, Tradition – and relate to what each individual holds dear – Self & Power, Change, Security etc. If a person holds Power and Esteem above all else, such a person is more likely to cut corners – a small generalisation as an example. 

It goes much deeper, but I hope I make my point. Attitude is just an expression, an action – the core is the value set of the individual. Attitude is not what we understand it to be; that is just a manifestation, and is in reality controlled by something else. The response to external stimuli is determined by internal personality parameters; the never-say-die or killer attitude etc is just a fashion statement, and has no precise basis in science.  It is just a mere expression based on external stimuli, determined by circumstances and personality, both being equally important.

On being faced with a challenge, small or large – it is your values that determine how you respond, not your attitude or your faith or anything else. Attitude is a function of your value system. A person with strong values will respond in a completely different manner as compared to a person with a weak internal constitution. A strong person will keep faith in his values and not take shortcuts, whereas the weak person will partake in shortcuts. 

This manifests itself in the world around us. A person with a weak value system will take the easy shortcut, and not struggle on the extremely suspect “bahaanaa” that the world does it {sound familiar?}, whereas the person with a real functioning value system will consciously opt for the optimal right path {both words operational and important – rare is the situation that has only one right answer} 

And it is this behavioural pattern that determines how tough you become due to the challenges you face, or how rough you become. The weak, the cowards become rough, whereas the strong become tough. Therein lies the difference.

Fire poses hard questions to a person’s conscience, and to a person’s base value system. The answers chosen by the individual determines roughness or toughness. Tough people are the real success – whereas the rough people are the failures. The world, however, regards roughness as toughness, showing its perceptive errors and ignorance. Roughness can never be toughness; Rough is external and skin deep – whereas tough is internal, and deep-seated. 

The core issue is, if you are being true to your value system, your conscience and the path of right, you are tough regardless of whether you are a material success in life. Material success is pointless, and a complete waste of time. Tumhaare mehel yeh saare, yahin reh jaayenge pyaare, fikar kis baat ki pyaare – wahaan paidal hi jaanaa hai! My parents wealth- whatever it was – still lies on this planet. They could not take it away with them! 

Material success is a means to an end : and the people who compromise on the path of right, on values for material luxuries are the real failures. Material wealth is important – you have to live, after all. The needs of the body are as genuine as the needs of the spirit. But that does not mean you compromise on the good, and the right. What difference is their between you and an Asura in that case? Straight, Frank and Blunt. 

Another word – small- that does not occur to people is “decisions”. Fire is all about decisions, which arise from your value system mentioned above. And it is these decisions that lead to further experiences; the good and value-based decisions lead to situations that are not easy to handle, requiring truthfulness, toughness, and commitment; you are constantly questioned on these, constantly challenged along the path. The one who remains true, passes all, other circumstances being equal. 

And it is because of the constant stream of difficult situations posed by challenges that allows a person to develop decision making skills. And that is how fire brings about toughness. That also defines and differentiates rough and tough. Toughness means facing problems in a calm manner, without panic, taking the right value-based decisions – even if it means pain over the short-term. And, in my opinion, very, very few people are tough by that description; managers, fathers, husbands, wives, friends – everyone chooses the short term. That isnt being tough; that is being rough. And Brash. Straight, Frank and Blunt, sorry. 

What drives a person, and gives the strength to be able to return from a setback? 

Primarily, need drives a person to bounce back everytime. Sorry to be so abrasive {it is unintentional} – this is a classic word used by people who may not have faced the same level or regularity of problems in life. “I admire his or her resilience”. 

What choice does a modern person have? Food doesnt grow on trees; it costs money to live. You have to be resilient today – that is a simple truism. And even a coward can be resilient. That is not hardening, it isnt being tough. That is pure need, nothing else. Any number of people are and can be resilient! 

What is more important is whether, in the process of bouncing back, some compromises on values or conscience have been made. Say a person loses his or her job because he or she is unable to come to terms with playing ball with unethical activities. If this person then starts doing unethical acts just to save the new job and grow, then this isn’t toughness; it may be resilient, since the person has come back and made it. But, in the process this person has made a pact with the devil, and sold his or her conscience, and base values, showing cowardice and weakness. 

Resilience has, thus, nothing to do with being tough, or being hardened. Tough means staying in the fight, struggling while remaining true to the values of honesty, integrity, courage, law, ethics. That is real toughness; not compromising on any value, not giving bribes, not doing anything unethical, being completely honest. The tough man or woman may not necessarily be rich, or in power; riches and power dont define toughness in a human being. Neither does brash abrasive behaviour, aggression, breaking rules and laws, cutting corners, “adjusting” to the ways of the world define toughness; that is being rough. 

As I stated above, tough means being true to your core values, being honest, showing integrity, and having the courage to walk the path of life despite the problems and difficulties you encounter – all the time, never even thinking of wavering from your chosen path of value-based and driven decisions. That is real tougness. 

Are you tough – or are you rough?