Misery Builds Character is a Stock Aesop and Stock Phrase that unpleasant, distasteful activities and events are supposedly "good", because the suffering that the subject goes through is believed to help his / her personal and spiritual development in some vague, unspecified manner. Sometimes quoted as "A little suffering is good for the soul," or as Kelly Clarkson puts it, "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger". When done right, the trope can show that someone can grow and mature once they had their share of humble pie or have suffered enough to build themselves up and get past their suffering. If done wrong, the trope can imply that you can only become a better person by suffering rather than building character on good deeds.
This message is often delivered by a parent (or Parental Substitute) to a Bratty Half-Pint as part of a set of instructions or admonitions. If the addressee is a Mouthy Kid or Little Miss Snarker, a sarcastic rejoinder is all but inevitable, especially if the parent is only doing it in order to be patronizing.
Of course, this trope is not limited to children, and the phrase can be used between adults as well.
A form of Necessary Fail. Also see If It Tastes Bad, It Must Be Good for You, Teach Him Anger, and When I Was Your Age.... Please, do not mistake for Stephen King's book, that... goes a little too far from this. Related to Training from Hell, The Spartan Way, Because You Can Cope and Had To Be Sharp. Can also be invoked by the Drill Sergeant Nasty. See also Enemies Equals Greatness if having enemies or detractors makes a character strong.
Before we go into the examples, please understand that, much like the biblical passage above note this trope is very divisive. While some people may subscribe to this idea, it generally holds that no one should have to go through any unpleasant, distasteful activities in the first place, which is to say no one should have to go through any kind of misery to begin with, especially since, for some people, misery just builds even more misery. Furthermore, trying to invoke this trope on another person, or group of people can (and sometimes does) backfire horribly, and in both directions.
- Though it isn't explicitly stated, a large portion of the backstory goes into showing why Guts is such a hardened (and therefore exceptional) warrior. Most of his life has been misery heaped on tragedy, forging him into an inhumanly durable person.
- On the other hand Casca most definitely did NOT become stronger from her misery. After all, this trope only works when applied moderately, not in excessive doses. It says a lot about the series and the setting that Guts' misery can be considered 'moderate'. Of course, Guts "advantage" was that his suffering didnt all happen at once, it came in succesively worse turns, so when the Eclipse happened, he was already tough enough that it didnt completely break him. Caska, on the other hand, while she didnt have a super fun life, had it relatively easier than Guts. So, then the Eclipse happens, and...
- Dark Magical Girl Fate Testarossa became the kindest and easily the most heroic character of Lyrical Nanoha series because she was abused and abandoned as a child, resolving to let no more children share her fate on her watch. On the other hand, in Battle of Aces, Arf suggests that Fate could have gone down a darker path like her Evil Counterpart Material L did if not for meeting Nanoha and the others.
- Kujira Kurokami from Medaka Box based her life on the saying, "Something amazing can only be made after seeing hell," believing that any happiness would keep her from creating her best work. Thus, she forced this trope on herself, even going so far as to run away from her well-off family, change her name, hide her face, and erase her memory.
- Monkey D. Garp in One Piece seems to subscribe to this theory, as he subjected Luffy as a child to many horrible trials, such as being tied to balloons and let fly away, or being left in the jungle at night with all the animals. It did seem to succeed in helping forge Luffy as something more than normal...
- Yu-Gi-Oh!: Gozaburo Kaiba, adoptive parent to Seto, was abusive to him on a daily basis in order to prepare him to be ruthless in the business world. Needless to say, he succeeded.
- Played straight and subverted in Naruto. Several people, the main character included, are better people specificially because they can empathize with the pain others are feeling. However, the main character makes it very clear that endless suffering is like drowning, and you can only last so long without someone pulling you up for air. The jinchuuriki who have someone supporting them turn out well, like Bee and Naruto, but the ones like Gaara who have nobody....don't turn out well. And there are cases like Haku and several members of the Sound, who suffered so much that a single act of kindness or even neutrality made them devote themselves to people just to feel needed, even when they knew they were just being used as tools.
- The overall result seems to be 'misery can make you strong, but you'll likely go crazy and probably be overall weaker than if you had a positive upbringing'. Gaara and Lee were about on even terms without a demon transformation and Lee gained strength from support with his teacher. Killer Bee is also exceptionally strong and respected and he was raised from childhood as a recognized member of his village.
- Subverted in Heat Guy J, where on the one hand, Clair does become a better person after going through a Trauma Conga Line, but on the other Daisuke is a good person in part because he, unlike Clair, has had people he can connect to and rely on throughout the hard times; most of the characters who have suffered worse than Daisuke are portrayed as having something wrong with them, and the reason why Clair is a bad person in the first place is because he grew up as a Lonely Rich Kid whose father abused him for years.
- Zig-Zagged and/or deconstructed in Birdy the Mighty: Decode. Birdy was raised and trained by people who seemed to have this mindset, having undergone Training from Hell since she was no older than ten in order to become a Federation officer. In the first season, the villain, Shyamalan, attempts to cause a version of this on a global scale, by unleashing a super weapon that will kill all but those he considers most worthy. The second season, in the aftermath of the ensuing disaster, shows that the survivors were able to bond over having lived through something so terrible. However, by the same token, Birdy did not have as tough a life as the second season's villain, Nataru, who is now a mentally-unstable murderer after having lived through the aforementioned disaster, and Shyamalan himself is implied to be wracked with Survivor Guilt as the result of being a victim of a terrorist attack years ago, which serves as the basis for his worldview today. The overarching implication seems to be that misery is just as likely to make you worse off as better off, if not more likely. Given that the director of Decode also directed the above-mentioned Heat Guy J, it's no surprise that its views on the subject are similar.
- Fullmetal Alchemist: Ed Elric subscribes to this viewpoint, sometimes to Anvilicious levels
There's no such thing as a painless lesson. They just don't exist. Sacrifices are necessary; you can't gain anything without losing something first. Although, if you can endure that pain, and walk away from it, you'll find that you now have a heart strong enough to overcome any obstacle. Yeah... a heart made Fullmetal.
- Cited by Star-Lord of Guardians of the Galaxy.
"You live a life like mine, you end up with a pocketful of regrets. A good regret gives a man character, if you ask me. I didn't get to be this handsome and laconic through clean living."
- The Intimates:
- Punchy stops Dead Kid Fred from committing suicide. Later, it's revealed that he wished he hadn't gotten to him in time, because having a death on his conscience like that would've made people take him more seriously as a hero — would have made him a better hero. This may have something to do with the fact that the murder of his sister sparked his career as a superhero to begin with.
- Duke more or less exhibits the trend, as well, being probably the nicest of the main characters while having probably the worst home life.
- The Flash: This was the rationale of the villain Zoom (Hunter Zolomon), who attempted to murder Wally West's wife, believing that West needed to suffer personal tragedy in order to become a better hero. He does not realize how fundamentally screwed up this logic truly is, making him also an example of The Mentally Disturbed by virtue of invoking this trope.
- Wally himself rejects this line of thinking, and stated that what Hunter never understood was that being the Flash was never about tragedy, but about always moving forward.
- Over the course of Art Spiegelman's Maus, Spiegelman's father Vladek states several times that, although his time in the concentration camps was horrific beyond measure, he learned several skills that would serve him well later in his life.
- The book subjects this trope to severe Deconstruction in that surviving severe oppression does not necessarily make a person better or worse. Vladek after the war becomes a thrifty, miserly parent to his young son who he can't relate to in the end. He's also unable to shake the prejudices, even being something of a racist himself to African-Americans, and overall his experience has made him a super-paranoid hypochondriac miser who's very needy and passive-aggressive. Likewise, his wife couldn't get over it herself and several years after the war, she committed suicide.
- Invoked by the often Wrong Genre Savvy Cockroach in Cerebus the Aardvark:
Roach: And we ALL know the only way to create character... don't we?
Roach: Bingo. (punches him)
- Daredevil: In a crossover with The Punisher, Matt ends up on a team with Frank's new sidekick, Rachel, who comes from a similar history of loss. Bonding over how they've lost loved ones, Rachel says that no one else knows such drive without tragedy. Daredevil... let's just say he roundly rejects that line of thinking.
- Used very darkly in V for Vendetta, in which one of V's biggest What the Hell, Hero? moments comes from his Cold-Blooded Torture of his protege Evey so that she can undergo the same spiritual transformation he did. It works, but not before she nearly loses her mind.
- As the trope image shows, in Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin's dad would often invoke this phrase whenever Calvin (or his mom) complained about their current activity. Bill Watterson stated in the tenth-anniversary book that he took this trait directly from his own father.
- In an arc where Moe successfully pressures Calvin to play baseball at recess, Calvin's dad has the idea to help him practice, because "it builds character." He hits a grounder to Calvin, and it bounces up into his face, leaving him with a nosebleed and a desire to never play baseball again.
Calvin: All by charagder id drippig out by node!
- The actual Trope Namer phrase came from somewhat of a parody of this - Calvin finds his father's glasses, and uses the phrase in an impression of his father funny enough that his mom was falling out of her chair with laughter.
Calvin's Dad: OK, the voice was a little funny, but that's still one darn sarcastic kid we're raising.
- One strip points out that the concept of building character itself is a turnoff for Calvin. After being forced outside by his father, he and Hobbes wind up busy catching fireflies by the time he calls him back inside. After being lectured about how this experience has benefited him (despite not being a miserable one), he later grumbles that nothing ruins the fun in something like being told that it builds character.
- Humorously subverted in this strip. The man who firmly believes that Misery Builds Character can only be pushed so far.
- Another strip subverts it when Calvin asks why they can't turn up the thermostat.
- In an arc where Moe successfully pressures Calvin to play baseball at recess, Calvin's dad has the idea to help him practice, because "it builds character." He hits a grounder to Calvin, and it bounces up into his face, leaving him with a nosebleed and a desire to never play baseball again.
- In Peanuts:
- Charlie Brown declares that he already has enough character, thank you very much.
- In another Lucy assures him, "We learn from our mistakes," and he bellows plaintively, "THAT MAKES ME THE SMARTEST PERSON IN THE WORLD!"
- At one point, after Snoopy's doghouse burned down rather tragically, Charlie Brown went to Lucy's booth for some counseling on why these tragedies occurred, to which she gave the rather philosophically pat answer that adversity helps prepare us for what lies ahead in life. For what are we being prepared, then? "More adversity. Five cents, please."
- Taken Up to Eleven with Calvin's father in Calvin and Hobbes: The Series: He thinks that hanging on a cliff on the edge of the Grand Canyon builds character.
- Calvin gets him back in the Abridged series, quoting the line as his father is hauled off to jail. His mother laughed.
- In the Girls und Panzer fanfic, Off The Path, Shiho discusses this trope in her POV chapter, titled "Sacrifice", defending her approach to teaching tankery and raising Miho.
It may be overly simplistic to say something like "misery builds character," but the decisions most necessary for success- in goals you choose yourself, as well as those chosen for you- are seldom the easiest or the most pleasant. It often takes an adult to realize this, and the related idea that there are things greater than your own desires and feelings, when a child cannot.
- Played with in The Boy Who Died A Lot, Snape's constant misery in having to prevent Harry's death and later heartbreak slowly has him develop of a sense of empathy and sympathy for others. Subverted with Harry, as the Trauma Conga Line in Cedric's death, his alienation and Umbridge's torture drive him to successfully commit suicide.
- Enforced by Sabrina in her sidestory of Pokémon Reset Bloodlines. Disgusted by her hometown's lazy attitude, she decides that if the promise of achieving something great won't spur them to work harder, she will make them act on fear of losing what they have, and thus she begins to use her powers to terrorize them until someone stands up to her.
- In the Kirby fanfiction Avalanche Stories: Bronto Burt's Story, Bronto Burt moved on and wins the Avalanche competition pretty much to Kirby despite Burt losing to the pink puffball and "came back strong".
- A couple of deleted scenes in Bruce Almighty ended up expanding on the consequences of Bruce granting the wishes of every person who prays to him, with God showing Bruce a couple of the people whose prayers he answered and how, though he's made them happy now, they'll actually be worse off in the long run.
God: Triumph is born out of struggle, faith is the alchemist. If you want pictures like these, you'll need to use some dark colors.
- A recurring theme in Conan the Barbarian (1982); the years of physical and emotional hardship shape Conan into the powerhouse he becomes as an adult.
- A central theme throughout The Dark Knight Saganote is Bruce overcoming increasing adversity and hardship to become stronger. Interestingly it also shows a darker side to this trope in that many of the villains he faces have also been forged by past tragedy and suffering.
- Batman Begins has Bruce endure the Training from Hell in order to become Batman. All fueled by the death of his parents and personal vengeance denied to him. His mentor Ducard was similarly motivated by the loss of the woman he loved though he chose a more extreme path.
- In The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce becomes stronger from being forced to watch Gotham as it descends into anarchy, while he's trapped in a Moroccan prison half a world away, unable to do anything about it. Lampshaded when Miranda Tate says this, nearly verbatim, to Bruce Wayne. Despite the baddies' familiarity with this trope, Bane in particular is utterly shocked when Wayne crawls out of the hole, and manages to destroy them both. It's also - possibly - why Wayne has recovered enough from his childhood trauma to finally quit angsting and enjoy life in the end.
- A Gentle Art:
Lance: Pain, they say, builds character... and you, my dear, are about to have more character than you know what to do with.
- Invoked by Penny's mom in Hairspray:
Penny: Without that show I have nothing!
Prudy: Having nothing builds character!
- In the movie version of Holes, the staff at Camp Green Lake claim the juvenile delinquents are forced to dig holes because it builds character. The real reason is there's a fortune buried somewhere in the dried up lake bed and camp was created to try to find it.
- Frank in Little Miss Sunshine tries to teach this to Dwayne, relating the story of Marcel Proust's coming of age and realizing that his difficult and painful teenage years "were the best years of his life, because they made him who he was."
- Major Payne did this deliberately to mold his students into a cohesive unit. The Guidance Councilor thinks this was an incredibly cynical plan. But by God, it worked! This became less "making them suffer to be better," which he himself went through, but "making them suffer together equally, and have a shared target of ire," a very common tactic among Drill Instructors, Sports coaches, etc. And yes, it is damned effective if done right.
- The Matrix: Agent Smith believes this to be humanity's hat, citing humanity's refusal to accept the first utopic Matrix as real. Something of an inversion; he uses this, not as evidence that suffering is good and necessary, but that Humans Are Flawed for needing it.
"Some believed that we lacked the programming language to design your 'perfect world,' but I believe that human beings as a species define their existence through misery and suffering."
- A deleted scene in Rocky Balboa has Rocky talking about how as a kid he would stare into streetlights without blinking and squeeze a ball in his hand until it was unbearably painful. He did this to make himself used to being uncomfortable and tolerate pain better. It paid off big time.
- Sunrise at Campobello: Franklin D. Roosevelt begins to feel that his bout with polio and the permanent paralysis that he suffered as a result is a part of what he must go through to lead. "I feel I must go through this fire for some reason."
Professor Thomas: The government cut the electricity.
Professor Thomas: To build national character!
- Part of V's reasoning in V for Vendetta behind kidnapping Evie, locking her in a fake government prison, and torturing her in the ways he was subjected to — he was grooming her to take over for him after he was gone.
- Whiplash: Fletcher's "Good Job" speech can be summed up as 'humiliation and self-loathing drive self-improvement, while undeserved praise breeds complacency and mediocrity'. This becomes deconstructed as Fletcher's regimen does improve his students proficiency as musicians, but turns them into cutthroat jerks at best, and renders them psychologically broken at worst.
- Invoked in-universe by Evilene in The Wiz. This is actually a subversion since Evilene, being The Wicked Witch of the West she is, is actually an evil slave master:
Evilene: Suffering is food for the soul. NOW SUFFER!
- X-Men Film Series:
- This is Charles' journey throughout the First Class trilogy; he must suffer a great deal in order to gain the necessary experience and wisdom to become an effective leader of mutants. When his life runs smoothly for too long, he can get complacent and fail to recognize that he's being harmfully paternalistic (such as his overprotectiveness towards Raven), or he doesn't anticipate a looming threat before it's too late (despite Hank's insistence, Xavier doesn't believe that the X-Men is required after the events of 1973). Because the hardships he had to endure in the Alternate Timeline are different than in the original timeline, his Icy Blue Eyes at the end of X-Men: Apocalypse indicate that James McAvoy's Professor X will be more resilient and proactive.
- Deadpool: Negasonic Teenage Warhead asks her mentor Colossus what the perks of being with the X-Men are, considering the mansion gets completely destroyed every couple of years. Colossus then cheerfully responds that "House blowing up builds character."
- The Bible: The Apostle Paul discusses this in the Book of Romans 3-5, where he notes that suffering builds endurance, endurance builds character, and character builds hope. Considering the time period, he and many of the other Christians that were physically tortured and martyred for their faith knew what they were talking about from many experiences they could count by the lashes on their backs.
- In Dragon Blood, Fenwick hates the fact that his son Ward has a soft heart. His attempts to change that through violence do not succeed. (He managed to drive his even more sensitive son Tosten to suicide ...). On the other hand, Ward's misery did build his character, in that he is always very compassionate with and protective of the smaller, weaker and more helpless. He repeatedly refers to the fact that he knows what it's like to be bullied by someone bigger and stronger. On the other hand, a different man might have just decided to join the bullies. Likely, Ward's gentle personality could have been sensitized to the suffering of others by just being told what it's like to be bullied.
- Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series:
- White Tower initiates suffer this trope. They must do all their chores by hand, without using their mystical powers, and are given extra chores that could be more efficiently done by the Tower's many paid servants, because menial labor is misery that builds character.
- Black Tower trainees invert both the trope and the above example. They must use their mystic powers for everything, including lighting lamps and cooking dinner— so when they first start their lessons, they find themselves eating raw food in the dark. This is misery too, but the instructors couldn't care less about "character." They're just motivating the students to practice and learn to adequately control their power; an important lesson, seeing as male channelers in this setting frequently end up either going insane or simply destroying themselves with their powers.
- This is implied in Harry Potter; growing up with his abusive Aunt and Uncle gave him a lot more humility than his father had at the same age (although his father grew out his Jerk Jock phase eventually). However, within the books, the reason Harry is a Humble Hero is because the love and sacrifice of his Good Parents never left him, even when he was raised by the Dursleys, as Dumbledore repeatedly clarifies. Dumbledore even notes that Harry is exceptional for being so kind and caring despite growing up the way he did and calls out the Dursleys for the poor treatment they gave him.
- In the books, there are several instances where misery does not build character. The young Tom Riddle had a bad childhood, growing up without parents, but he didn't become a Heartwarming Orphan, he became The Sociopath. Severus Snape barely managed to escape this, but even then he became a Dark wizard who struck out at the one person who was very nice to him and even after his Heel–Face Turn, remains a difficult, unpleasant person haunted by his past. The theme of the books is choice, and even in exceptionally difficult situations people have to make a choice to determine their character.
- Appears frequently in stories about British childhoods (especially holidays before mass air travel), such as Emma Kennedy's The Tent, the Bucket and Me about her family's disastrous camping holidays in the '70s.
- A recurring theme in Tall Tale America is that people can only get to be heroes if they've got plenty of "rock-ribbed hardships" to overcome. Heck, Pecos Bill intentionally makes the cowboy business extraordinarily difficult, just so the cowboys who manage to survive it will be the best there ever was.
- Various Strawman Political characters in Atlas Shrugged say that suffering is necessary for building character. The Writer on Board doesn't think kindly of this notion.
- In the Quantum Gravity series, devils plant themselves on a victim and whisper these kind of thoughts, keeping the victim in Hellnote . Demons get...touchy if you confuse demons and devils, as demons believe the exact opposite. Have fun at everything you do, be it painting, singing, fighting, killing, decorating, what have you. A demon with a devil on it isn't even considered a demon anymore, it's an imp.
- In Timewyrm: Genesys, the Doctor uses this as an excuse for abandoning Ace in the company of an increasingly drunk and horny Gilgamesh. Luckily, Enkidu is present in the role of the Only Sane Man. In the whole of Mesopotamia.
- Crabbit in A Princess of Landover appears to espouse this view. And judging by Mistaya's Character Development while at Libiris, he may be right.
- Vergere does this to Jacen BIG time in New Jedi Order's Traitor. This is a fundamental part of Yuuzhan Vong philosophy—the Vong believe that anything worth having or any lesson worth learning can only be purchased through pain (stemming from their belief that the Creator made the universe by ritually sacrificing his own body). Vergere picked this up from the Vong, though her definition of "character" turns out to differ rather substantially from theirs.
- In Bryan Miranda's The Journey to Atlantis, all of the main characters jointly survive a shipwreck only to be stranded on a deserted island, and have to survive through various other hardships while on said island, forcing them to adapt and grow.
- In one of the sequels in the Brian's Saga, Brian clarifies that he did not beat Nature — Nature beat and kicked the stupid out of him until he learned his place in the forest.
- In Pact, Blake Thorburn plays with this trope. While he occasionally cites his Dark and Troubled Past of time spent on the streets, which he claims have given him keen instincts, he also mentions that he loathes the saying "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." While his instincts may be keener, they're counterbalanced by his severe PTSD, and he himself feels that he's been made weaker, often referring to himself as "not much of a man."
- The Stormlight Archive: Misery is the most important key to becoming a Surgebinder. The soul needs to crack so that power can flow in and shore up the fissures. While it is possible to be born with a cracked soul (mental illness), it is more common for the proto-Surgebinder to go through hell and gain their powers that way.
- Game of Thrones: Jaime's period of suffering after losing his hand, which Brienne calls "one taste of the real world where people have important things taken from them", has made him far more introspective, kinder and restrained for the most part.
- The series finale of Malcolm in the Middle has Lois sabotage Malcolm's chance at a high paying job because she believes he needs at least a decade more of suffering before he's ready to pursue what (she believes) is his destiny: to become the best President of the United States ever. However, she does have a point under the insanity: Malcolm is a genius and had been accepted to Harvard, where he could learn and excel at anything he set his mind to (which given his IQ and resourcefulness, could be world-changing) if he worked his ass off for it and learned to value hard work and opportunity, rather than waste his potential on working for a pointless corporation that dropped a job in his lap and wanted nothing more from him than what he was capable of in his senior year of high school.
- Ace Rimmer from Red Dwarf is this all over. He is different to normal Rimmer because their shared timeline split off when they were children. One of them got held back a year in school, the other didn't. It turns out it's actually Ace that was held back a year, and so he suffered for it (ie by being bullied and suffering the humiliation of it all), and decided to fight back, and continued to fight back ever since, building his character and becoming awesome. Normal Rimmer, on the over hand, was never held back a year, and therefore spent the rest of his life making excuses for himself.
- In one episode of Seinfeld, Jerry claims that the ability to refrain from urinating builds character.
- Subverted in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "New Ground," when Worf tells his son Alexander that the rigors of Klingon schools are meant to build character — but that their staying together will be an even greater challenge.
- A more tragic version in Star Trek: Voyager's "Real Life". The Doctor has created a hologram family to experience a new aspect of humanity. During the course of the episode his daughter suffers a mortal wound in an accident and is dying, so the Doctor suspends the program. Paris points out to him that normal humans don't get to evade the negative aspects of life and persuades the Doctor to see the program to completion and say goodbye to his daughter.
- According to Red on That '70s Show, "In order for [my son] to be a responsible adult, he has to be miserable now!"
- In Downton Abbey, Cora tries to use this approach to comfort Edith after she's jilted at the altar by Sir Anthony.
- Doc Martin: Martin was brought up by emotionally distant and borderline abusive parents who resented having a child at all.
Martin: I was locked in the cupboard under the stairs as a child, and it never did me any harm.
- In Westworld, trauma often causes Hosts to deviate from programming in unintended ways, bringing them closer to self-awareness. They even wish to keep painful memories because they're all they have left. Ford comes to the conclusion that in order for the hosts to attain true consciousness, they had to have suffered enough first. Not so much because misery builds character, but because if the hosts were happy they would never have the incentive to change their circumstances.
- An Aesop that appears in several episodes of The George Lopez Show that deal with George's childhood. Yeah he grew up poor, abused, neglected, suffered from learning disabilities and was left with a lot of issues. However, George gained a lot of lessons from it which he applies throughout the series. It gave him the nerve to ask Angie out, he has proven more responsible than many of the other adults, and he's a lot better off than Ernie or his half-brother, who had good parents.
George: [to Benny] I'm anything but a wuss. If you weren't so tough on me, I'd be the type of person who just sat back and let somebody destroy my clubs. Instead, I'm the type of person who breaks into their car and takes this. [pulls Benny's steering wheel out of a bag, smiling the entire time]
- Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” uses the Nietzche quote in its chorus.
- David Byrne touches on this a few times.
Green grass grows around the backyard shithouse,
- In "The Cowboy Mambo (Hey Lookit Me Now)".
and that is where the sweetest flowers bloom.
We're all flowers growing in God's garden,
and that is why he spreads the shit around.
This moment was a gift from above.
- "Seven Years" (from Here Lies Love, Byrne's collaboration with Fatboy Slim), describes Benigno Aquino's imprisonment on trumped-up charges. He realizes:
Maybe it's some kind of test.
- The entire New Japan system is based on this, and while similarities exist some of their regional rivals(All Japan, FMW, etc) it's NJPW that's most famous because the characteristic they're tying to build is envy, which their strong style is supposed to be a physical representation of. From the beginning "Young Boys" are forced to live in claustrophobic quarters when they aren't waiting on established wrestler hand and foot, having to do drills in thousands of repetitions if they mess anything up-if they're lucky and don't get stuck with one of the many sadist teachers who'll really make sure they suffer. Then they're allowed to wrestle as "Young Lions" but restricted to using only the most boring and or most obvious moves to ensure they'll lose as often as possible to anyone who knows what they're doing. Then when the IWGP deems them masters of these "fundamentals" they're sent on "excursion", often to foreign country, usually to some place where the wrestling style is different from what they're used to, to ensure whatever they've been thinking of but now allowed to do won't work and they'll lose even more until they learn to adapt. If nothing else, it's believed those who graduate from the "young lion" designation will appreciate any success they manage to achieve in New Japan, though it tends to produce a lot of arrogant kung fu guys who go on to become the aforementioned sadist teachers.
- Many Role Playing Games with a Point Build System reward you with extra points for choosing flaws. Those points can then be used to buy advantages. The problem with this is that it's rather hard to judge exactly how detrimental a flaw will be - how problematic is your crippling fear of the open sea really when the campaign takes place in the desert? Thus, several RPGs have developed the solution of granting boons - extra XP, fate points and the like - to characters at the time their flaws actually come up in gameplay rather than rewarding them in advance.
- Champions adventure Deathstroke. The title villain group decided to make their agents monitor the base's surveillance cameras instead of letting a computer do it because they felt that the boring duty would "build character".
- "Money Isn't Everything" from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Allegro sarcastically lists the deficiencies of money, concluding that "it cannot build your character or teach you how to starve".
- In J.B., this is the message Nickles wants to impress upon Job.
Every human creature born
Is born into the bright delusion
Beauty and loving-kindness care for him.
Suffering teaches! Suffering's good for us!
Imagine men and women dying
Still believing that the cuddling arms
Enclosed them! They would find the worms
Peculiar nurses, wouldn't they? Wouldn't they?
- Team Fortress 2 - The Soldier believes this, according to one of his voice clips: "Pain is weakness leaving the body!"
- Fire Emblem Awakening - Chrom tells Lissa that "hardship builds character" while she's complaining about having to camp out. She angrily replies that she's "built quite enough character for one day".
- This is the basic working principle behind Carillon in Sunless Skies — you go there to have the flaws removed from your soul by suffering various horrible punishments. The facility is run by devils and to some degree acts like a purgatory for willing patients.
- Messiah: In the intro, God tells Bob that the upcoming mission will "help build character". "I've got enough character," Bob protests.
- Winter Voices has this in spades. By facing your hallucinations, past, and fears, you gain experience points which allow you to level up, increase your characteristics (Willpower, Humor, Memory, Perspicacity, Charisma, and Intuition) and gain new skills. Was it made clear that the skill tree is a giant snowflake?
- This is a main theme that also gets heavily deconstructed in Far Cry 3, the player character starts as a spoiled rich kid who gets kidnapped by pirates alongside with his friends and siblings, to survive and rescue his friends he must become a hardened killing machine which later causes his friends to grow afraid of him. By the end he must choose between the lives of his friends and his new life on the island, if he chooses the former he then returns home with his friends but it's implied that he will have a very hard time fitting in again.
- Silent Hill 3 believes this to a frightening degree, deeming pain and hatred to be the best nourishment for God during Her incubation process inside Heather. Since happy people can be thoughtless and cruel, God logically needs to witness as much suffering as possible to truly understand humanity's needs. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?.
- In Bully the principal of Bullworth Academy thinks this, at one point Jimmy points out to him how the school is full of bullies, to which he cheerfully replies that "It builds character!".
- The final level in Um Jammer Lammy has its lyrics talk about how one should never cut corners and life's struggles will help you later on.
- In the True End of The Letter, the surviving characters make works of art spurred on the events of the game, including the death of their friend Ashton. Zachary makes a movie about his experiences, Rebecca writes a book about Charlotte's life, and Isabella becomes a painter famous for her dark themes.
- In Steins;Gate before starting the True End to save Kurisu Okabe has to suffer through accidentally killing her himself once because without that failure he would never have the will required to obsessively devote himself to developing his own time travel to save her out of horrible guilt.
- In They Are My Noble Masters the colonel tells Ren he needs to be aware that a hard life has made him strong, but Yume's spoiled life has made her weak and that this is going to be a fundamental disconnect between them. Yume is terrible at standing up against any form of adversity with her Cool Big Sis servant Natose desperately trying to keep her from ever being hurt.
- MAG ISA — This is the whole point of this comic. Eman, the main hero goes through a lot of misery that the average person would probably end up just killing himself/herself.
- In this User Friendly strip, Sid claims that obsessive addiction to Nethack is a good thing because it helps build character.
- The Order of the Stick:
- Durkon applying this philosophy:
Durkon: ...[B]ein' a dwarf is about doin' yer duty, even if it makes ye miserable. ESPECIALLY if it makes ye miserable!
- A subdued subversion: when the new High Priest of Thor offers Miko a seat while she writes a response to Durkon's request, Miko says that standing builds character. Then adds that she had been riding a horse for four days.
- Durkon applying this philosophy:
- SF Debris takes major issue with this viewpoint in his review of the Voyager episode "Real Life". That episode plays the trope by having a holographic doctor suffer one of the worst real life nightmares and true Adult Fear: hopelessly watching his ill child die. Not surprisingly, the issue never resurfaced for the character in question, which is what earned the episode Chuck's ire. It probably didn't help that, as Chuck Sonnenberg relates in the video in question, he had twin sons born prematurely and had to watch them on the knife edge between life and death, struggling to survive. It's a seriously powerful Tear Jerker when he informs his listeners "Don't tell me it builds fucking character."
- In Ed, Edd n Eddy, after the Eds wrongfully accuse Jonny of being a "serial toucher" (the episode revolved around someone touching and taking the kids things. It later turned out the items were just misplaced) and sentence him to rolling down a hill in a giant tire, Eddy justifies it by citing the trope. And given his rather shocking history of abuse from his brother seen in The Movie, he might just believe it.
Edd: Should we feel worried about Jonny's predicament?
Eddy: Nah! You know what they say, a little childhood trauma builds character.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender:
- This basically became Zuko's personal life philosophy.
Zuko: I don't need luck though, I don't want it. I've always had to struggle and fight and that's made me strong. It's made me who I am.
- He's just trying to please his Magnificent Bastard father, who claims this is the case, but his philosophy is actually Might Makes Right. His son doesn't agree? Teach him a permanent lesson... On his face.
Ozai: You will learn respect, and suffering will be your teacher.
- It takes Zuko three years to realize that Ozai using this trope to justify his cruelty is bullshit and Call The Old Man Out and tell him to Shut Up, Hannibal! With a "World of Cardboard" Speech.
Zuko: How can you possibly justify a duel with a child?
Ozai: It was to teach you respect!
Zuko: It was cruel! And it was wrong!
- In a more unusual example, Avatar Yangchen tells Aang that the reason the Avatar is born human, and thus capable of making mistakes, and not an immortal spirit on a mountain somewhere is so they can relate to and show compassion towards the people of the world, by experiencing not only sadness and anger, but joy and happiness as well. Considering Raava's disdain towards humanity before getting to see Wan's noble side and eventually fusing with him, she's got a point.
- In The Legendof Korra Korra makes a similar statement to Tenzin after she managed to talk Kuvira down, saying that her suffering made her more compassionate.
- This basically became Zuko's personal life philosophy.
- Batman is always described as the very essence of this Trope. The loss of his parents made him the (probably) most strong-willed person in the DC/DCAU-universe.
- In the House of Mouse episode "Goofy For A Day" Max decides to be a waiter to prove to Goofy that waiting is an easy job. When it proves to be tough for Max, Goofy tells him that "goofing up builds character".
- Miko of Transformers Prime receives a hefty, and long overdue dose of this during "Hurt". Mostly spending the first season and a half acting as a dipstick Leeroy Jenkins who loves getting in the way of missions, "Hurt" brings her down to earth with killing Hardshell, and realizing her buddy Bulkhead will never fully recover from his injuries.note
- In one episode of American Dad! Stan decided that Steve needed to be bullied for being too passive and Weak-Willed and took up the job himself. In response Steve found the guy who tormented his dad in school on Facebook and paid him to beat Stan up. A few seasons later, it turns out Stan's original lesson was right, and Steve not only gets beaten up by said bully, but also the new bully he had been dealing with. Of course, it didn't address the original problem that Steve is completely physically incapable of fighting, and no amount of bullying is going to solve that.
- The Simpsons:
- In the season 2 episode "Dead Putting Society", Bart and Todd Flanders are neck-and-neck at a miniature golf competition and they have this conversation when they're tied at the final hole:
Bart: This is pretty tense, isn't it, Todd.
Todd: Yeah, my knees are shaking, I got butterflies in my stomach... But I guess this builds character.
Bart: Who wants to build character? Let's quit!
- After Homer has a massive heart attack and ends up in the hospital needing a quadruple bypass, he asks Dr Hibbert if "what doesnt kill him willl make him stronger". Hibbert points out that this only applies to mental suffering, and that Homer is currently as weak as a newborn kitten.
- In the season 2 episode "Dead Putting Society", Bart and Todd Flanders are neck-and-neck at a miniature golf competition and they have this conversation when they're tied at the final hole:
- On Johnny Test, Johnny's dad explains why he's forcing Johnny to use his old World War II issue backpack which put Johnny at the bottom of the middle school food chain:
Johnny's Dad: Johnny, my father made me use this ugly World War II backpack through middle school. The shame and embarrassment I felt from carrying that bag has followed me for the rest of my life. But it built character.
- In the South Park episode "The List", after Kyle becomes depressed because he's voted as the ugliest boy in school, he is visited by the ghost of Abraham Lincoln, who shows him that ugliness can be a blessing in disguise: Ugly people have nothing handed to them and they must earn what they seek and thus will develop character, while beautiful people will have no redeeming character when their looks begin to fade. Subverted at first as Kyle is angered at constantly being told what to feel and that he doesnt want to wait until he's an adult to be happy, but by the end of the episode, its revealed that the list had been faked as part of a plot by some of the girls to get free shoes, Kyle decides against reading the real list and finding out his true status on it, prefering to work on himself rather than base his self esteem on what other people think.
- In Gravity Falls episode "Dreamscaperers", Stan claims the reason he's so rough on Dipper is because he's trying to toughen him up, citing the boxing lessons his own dad made him take as a child as an example. Unfortunately, this trope is deconstructed: because Stan never showed Dipper much affection on top being so hard on him and only him, it only took one sentence out of context to convince Dipper that Stan hated him.
- Downplayed and inverted (focusing on the lack of misery) in the Adventure Time episode "Puhoy." Finn finds a portal to a 'verse made entirely of pillows. Everything comes easily there to him; monsters are easy, the Girl of the Week easily falls in love with him. Nothing is a challenge. After an entire lifetime there, Finn returns to his own world and, when Jake asks what happened, says "Eh." Even if it was All Just a Dream, the fact that it was all soft and comfortable made it not even worth remembering. (That episode also shows a little bump in Finn and Flame Princess' relationship, which is invigorating because it's not always easy).
- The principle for Lamarckian evolution: organisms change in accordance to adversities in their life, and pass the strengths to their offspring. Of course, it was long discredited in favor of Neo-Darwinian evolution. However, with the discovery of epigenetics, the idea is making a bit of a comeback. Of course, even with epigenetics not everything passed down to offspring by their parents is necessarily a good reaction to environmental stress, making it a bit of a mixed example.
- Truth in Television in that there are people who subscribe to the philosophy, but sadly, not the desired effect. Bully apologists, for example, use this as an excuse to sit idly by and allow bullying to continue, believing that the abuse will make the victims stronger. The results: not so much. While it is true that people have become stronger in the face of adversity, this does not mean adversity always makes someone stronger.
- Even worse are those who approve of bullying victims killing themselves because it culls the weak from the population or because they disapprove of whatever traits provoked the bullying in the first place. George Takei has something to say about that.
- The key thing is that adversity does build character if you do something to overcome it, many bully apologists forget this fact when the victim is clearly overmatched and/or has no one to recur. Remember, if you are being bullied and it's too much for you, there's no shame in seeking help; and best of all, your actions count towards building character.
- Even if you do something to overcome it, if the trauma is strong enough there are good chances of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This trope is in the Real Life more or less crapshoot: it can build character, it may break you up - or do both.note
- Taken to its extreme with bullying's meaner big brother, hazing. The majority of lawmakers who are against passing laws against hazing often mention they were in fact in clubs or fraternities that had hazing and remembered it (through a Nostalgia Filter) as a character-building exercise that helped them bond with their fellow club members, frat brothers, etc. The problem here being that these lawmakers failed to take several factors into consideration, the biggest problem being that each generation tends to take the hazing one step further than the last, and while the lawmakers might remember their hazing as only being humiliating (such as embarrassing dare like streaking) or mildly painful (such as a fraternity paddling,) hazing in recent generations has gotten so extreme that many hazing victims have been hospitalized or even died because of it.
- This does seem to be justifiable Truth in Television when applied to media creators making their characters miserable. One piece of advice for new writers from no less a master than Kurt Vonnegut himself is to make things as difficult as you can for your characters, so the audience may see what they're really made of. Indeed, tortured characters seem to sell very well, as long as it doesn't veer into Wangst (if what they're made of turns out to be "crybaby") or Deus Angst Machina (which can quickly exhaust and frustrate an audience, even when handled realistically).
- Plenty of people who've experienced hardship (of any magnitude) value having had the experience because it taught them some sort of useful skill or helped them grow as a person, though they generally agree that they wouldn't want to do it again.
- A lot of private schools in the UK require school on Saturday morning / afternoon, particularly if said schools are boarding schools (or feature boarding optionally), and/or if they have sports teams who play against other school teams on that day. School holidays tend to be longer as a result. Many state schools have put parents off with their high crime level, overcrowding and poor teaching. The students are not smart enough to get into Grammar School, so are stuck with these private schools. Saturday schooling is a humiliating practice that inhibits proper growth and puts people off academia, and schools without it get far higher admission rates. As a result, it is dying out. The one good thing it does do is make it easier for those running their own businesses, since Saturday is the most profitable day to work if you are running a business.
- In countries such as France and Italy, the practice is actually quite widespread and isn't thought of as strange at all. These countries sometimes get Wednesday as a day off, though those working often don't.
- Inverted by prisons. Norway is known for having rather nice prisons and has a reasonably low recidivism rate. The USA is known for having rather horrific prisons that make hardened criminals out of most of those who are sent there. For what it's worth, part of the issue is that the ways in which US prisons are horrific are especially cruel to those who value compassion, while more brutal behaviours get reinforced. Still though, it goes to show that suffering alone does not build character; or, at the very least, it depends on when you suffer and why.
- "Character" doesn't necessarily imply morality, either. The prison experience turning someone into a hardass could be this trope Gone Horribly Right.
- This may be required to function to an extent. However there is a limit (you may get PTSD for example, which is more a breaking of one's character rather then development of it). The flip-side being is that, since everyone's life always has its hardships, there's really no reason to go piling them on simply for extra misery.
- Pretty much a default part of life when living in Russia. Or even being Russian anywhere else. Part of why Mother Russia Makes You Strong.
- Part of the reasoning behind many ascetic religious/philosophical disciplines and customs that are practiced by many different belief systems - fasting, vows of poverty/silence/chastity, food restrictions (denying oneself meat, alcohol, fatty, sweet, or other "luxury" foods), etc - willingly giving up various indulgences and accepting physical discomfort (even temporarily) is believed by many faiths to strengthen a person's faith and bring them in touch with their spiritual side. It's just believed that pleasurable things get in the way not that hardship itself is necessary. Though several paths do recognise that pleasurable things actually enhance spirituality, if apreciated in a proper way. To a more serious extreme, being persecuted and even martyred for your faith is seen as a badge of honor by many religions.
- Part of why countless rites of passages around the world throughout history (especially for guys) involved pain - whether by combat, ritual scarring, piercing, a highly uncomfortable ritual, a dangerous stunt, survival situation, etc - a mere boy cries when he gets hurt, but a real man toughs it out and becomes stronger for it.
- Actress Virginia Hey has not been shy about saying that her time on Farscape was incredibly rough on her. Aside from having to shave her head and eyebrows off to play the alien Zhaan, she also had to be slathered in blue body paint that caused her kidney problems during her time on the show (although it should be noted she has no ill will toward the show or its fanbase, and was willing to stay on if they could reach a compromise involving a bald cap and a different makeup, but they couldn't, and she simply couldn't handle the physical toll anymore.) Looking back, she said that she actually enjoyed it for a while, since she felt like, as a former model, she was "paying her dues" and earning her stripes as a full-fledged actor. Other actors (often jokingly, but not always) have similar ideas of having to "pay your dues," involving things like filming scenes in the freezing cold, working with uncomfortable prosthetics, or having to work a long run in theater before truly being able to call yourself an actor.
- Friedrich Nietzsche is famous for saying "That which does not kill us makes us stronger". As the philosophy is antithetical to the concept of Inborn Fitness, his belief in this is often used as evidence that he wasn't a Social Darwinist like many who associate him with the Nazis attest.
- During most of his public sparring sections heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali would intentionally let bigger men, like Larry Holmes, beat him up in the ring without showing any of his offensive skills. This was so he could master taking punishment and have better defensive reflexes. It paid off during his historical victory against "Big" George Foreman in Zaire Africa, when he laid against the ropes and let Foreman tire himself out by taking punishment.
- However, given that boxing is generally held to be responsible for his Parkinson's disease, YMMV on if the short-term gains he got in strength and endurance were worth the long-term consequences, much the same way bullying/hazing can cause significant mental health issues.
- Unhappy with the way his shy, sensitive son Rudolf was turning out, Emperor Franz Joseph I. of Austria deliberately invoked this, assigning a Drill Sergeant Nasty-type to 'toughen the boy up'. It ended up backfiring rather spectacularly.
- Studies have shown that willpower can be trained in the same way muscles can. Doing things you don't want to do, even silly ones like brushing your teeth with the "wrong" hand, makes it easier to accomplish other, more important things.
- Which leads to remarkable insight when one considers emotional hardship in terms of parallels to physical hardship: exercise builds muscle by tearing muscle fibers in small amounts, causing the muscles to become stronger when they heal. However, overexertion can lead to long-lasting or even permanent bodily harm. Apply the same principles—and more importantly, the same caveats—to the human psyche.
- The actor and musician Hugh Laurie was raised Presbyterian with the idea that all fun is suspicious. He has stated that he thinks he may be incapable of having fun, and describes his relationship to pleasurable things as such: "I have this thing in my head... if a thing is pleasurable it can't be any good.. I try to flip it the other way and make it not pleasurable to make it good-which is insane, it doesn't make any sort of sense".
- Any sports fanbase that endures years of finishing low on the rankings or getting close but no cigar to the title (sometimes, alternating on both). Some even get famed about being miserable (with moments of hope that they know won't last), such as the Chicago Cubs, New York Jets, Toronto Maple Leafs, and any team from Cleveland and Kansas City.
- World War II: The theatrical release of Saving Private Ryan and the publication of Tom Brokaw's book, The Greatest Generation began to promote a nostalgic view of the war by the Baby Boomers. These works assert that war creates good citizens, turns boys into men, calls for young people to "make extraordinary sacrifices without complaint" and precisely because War Is Hell, it builds character.
- Played straight by Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who at the age of 12 wanted to become an ascetic and chose Stoic philosophy. He is known as one of the best emperors of the Roman Empire.
- It horribly backfired on his son Commodus, who was raised in a similar way. He became a weak-minded and cruel sybarite, who enjoyed luxuries and extravaganza, and admired physical prowess and pleasures.
- Averted with survivors of The Holocaust. They went through a shitload of crap, but most were left psychologically broken by the ordeal.
- This is also averted with a Shell-Shocked Veteran, especially in the first World War, as the heavy artillery barrages left soldiers traumatized and not "strong willed heroes". The Seale Hayne Hospital in Devon, England treated veterans with shell shock and tried to return them to a semblance of previous life going from them shambling around mindlessly in a room to a functioning member of society.
- This is part of the Japanese concept of shoganai, or "It Can't Be Helped", as well as the concept of gaman, or "enduring the unendurable".