Why I Don't Believe in Tough Love

I don't believe in tough love.

Yet, for some reason, society treasures it. We love the anti-hero archetype that speaks their mind and doesn’t bullshit (hey, people used this as a reason to vote for Trump), and there is something in that: The truth is important. We should value the truth. However, the truth is neither "tough" nor "weak", those are in fact manners of presentation, and the need to be "tough" occasionally likely disguises the fact that when not being "tough", the person has a problem being honest. They can only present the truth as something factual and unbiased, and kind of cruel. This has given us a biased view of what to expect and allow from a coach.

But here’s the million dollar question: what value does tough love have if you are just honest all the time? When you try to be as honest as possible (which you can do compassionately), you realise that “tough love” is just an excuse for lacking the ability to present things in the most effective way. It’s not about being the most right, it’s about being the most useful.  


And that’s your failure, as the “tough lover” (please let that not be a phrase that catches on). That you use it as an excuse for not doing the legwork required to find out why someone is resistant to the truth or needs to be handled with care. People also often disguise abusive behavior as "tough love" and we cannot tell the difference.


Change, ultimately, requires a level of honesty with the self that is brutal and how that truth is presented, whether it is "tough" love or not, doesn't matter as much as your relationship with that person. It's going to hurt either way, but they need to know it hurts because it's true, not because you are being hurtful.


It's not a coach’s job to lay siege to a person’s defenses, because whether we agree with the reasons or not, they put them up because it makes them feel safe. We should respect that and endeavor to help them grow past the need for them, and that truly requires you to understand the person who built them in the first place.

Don’t celebrate tough love as a virtue, honesty is a virtue. Tough love is a marketing gimmick.

Devon Boorman is the Co-Founder and Director of Academie Duello Centre for Swordplay, which has been active in Vancouver, Canada since 2004. Devon’s expertise centres on the Italian swordplay tradition including the arts of the Renaissance Italian rapier, sidesword, and longsword, as well as knife and unarmed techniques.
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