May 10, 2007


by Kari Diane Pike

Our nine-year-old son asked me a question the other day. I didn’t have the answer. I told him I would have to think about it for awhile. That was Sunday. Today is Thursday. I still don’t have the answer. I discussed it with my husband. I discussed it with a friend at church. I even discussed it with complete strangers while I worked out at Curves. Now I am discussing it with you.

His question is, “What is the difference between power and strength?”

Personally, I think there is more than one answer to that question. I think it depends not only on the context of the question, but on the use of the words, “power” and “strength.” It depends on your personal experiences and perspectives, your age and even your gender.

I think you can have great strength (or physical ability), but you may not have the power (as is authority) to use that strength. I also think you can have power, but lack the strength (as in character) to successfully use that power.

I thought of my dear father-in-law when I pondered this question. Dad suffers from advanced Alzheimer’s. He used to have power and strength. His body and mind were strong and active. The man could build or fix anything. He always requested me to have a “honey-do” list ready for him whenever he came to visit. He was, as Kenny Chesney would sing it, our “unsinkable ship”…our “unbreakable wall.” Dad still has a great strength of body and will. He can walk for miles. He is determined to find whatever he is looking for. But his power of reasoning is gone. His power to communicate effectively is gone. He has lost the power to live independently. This man, who could take apart an engine and rebuild it again, can’t even figure out how to undo his own seatbelt.

His wife of nearly 60 years cares for Ken in the home they purchased over 40 years ago. Mom is his power. Everything she does for him is motivated by love and her desire to preserve his dignity and independence. Mom has been given strength beyond her ability to care for Dad. Mom has also been given the power to discern his needs and to communicate her love to him.

I thought about power and strength as it applies to our writing. What is the difference between powerful writing and strong writing? Is there a difference? Is one better than the other? You tell me.

Oh, and by the way, our son (the one who asked the question) is going to be a fifth grader next year. His teacher urged us to let him audition for the “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” show. Would any of you consider something like that for your child, or do you think it unwise to expose kids to that type of experience?


  1. Kari,
    You must have an exceptional son to ask such a deep question. And what a great intelectual journey you've been on this last week! Thanks for taking us along for the ride. How well you answered his question.

    I would say there would be no harm in letting him try out for the 5th grader thing. He would get to see behind the facade of the TV screen into the inner workings of OZ, and it could be a great learning experience for someone who could internalize it--and it sounds like he can.

    The problem, of course, is the possibility of failure, as I assume the competition is pretty fierce. My feeling has always been that 'failure' is not a bad thing for someone for whom everything is always easy. The most important thing would be that you as parents view the experience as an adventure with all sorts of possibilities. It could be a way to help him see that nothing is a sure thing, that nothing great is ever achieved from a point of security, that there is value and valor in taking the plunge, that the experience is its own reward, and that winning is simply a by product of the adventure.

    I would say, go for it!

  2. I think that winning and losing at any age is a part of life. It determines your character early: i.e., we love a winner who cries and a loser who tries. As for power and strength, was his question that deep on his level? As a technical writer, I would have to say while they are not the same thing, they require each other to do great and small things. I'm reminded of an old cartoon that has a mom and a son walking in the fall with all the different colored leaves. And he asks his mom why they change color and the mom answers with a scaled-down science lesson. He looks at her and says, "Grandma said God paints them different colors."

  3. LOL!
    Terry, I love it! We have had a number of experiences like that with our children and grandchildren. With this particualr child however, the question was deep on his side, too. This is the child who at 6 years old told me he had a question he had been thinking about for a long time and just couldn't get it out of his mind. He wanted to know if the universe really went on for ever and ever or if it had an edge like the table. I called his philosophy major older brother at BYU and let him answer the question for him. They had an amazing discussion about how scientists around the world are divided on the two theories. Then we talked about creation and what the scriptures teach us. Levi was reading the Harry Potter books before he started kindergarten. He keeps me very humble.

  4. Liz,
    Thank you for the insight and advice. Levi is a perfectionist and used to refuse to do anything unless he was sure he could succeed. Then I found the most incredible piano teacher. She has helped him learn to see the rewards of trying new things and not giving up just because it is difficult. I am very grateful for the angels that have assisted me in raising my children!

  5. Power is the rate at which work is done. Power = Work/Time. You measure power in watts. Work = Force*Displacement. "Strong" means big (as in, numerically great) force. Displacement/Time = Velocity, and "Fast" means big (again, numerically great) velocity.

    If you juggle the equations a bit, you will see that Power = Force*Velocity.

    If you step it out of physics, you would say that strength is a question of ability, while power is in the use of that of ability. Strength tells you how much you can move the world.

    Power is how much DO move the world.

    (And as an aside, velocity is how fast you move the world, and that's part of power too!)

    Wonderful entry. Probably a better answer to Levi's question, too d^_^b. But never underestimate the power of physics!


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