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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Only the Strong

Only the strong

I remember the passionate sound of Jerry Butler’s 1968 song “Only the Strong Survive” playing from a vinyl record throughout my home when I was a child and as my mom would listen to soul music when she cleaned the house. Lyrics include:

I remember my first love affair

Somehow or another, the whole darn thing went wrong

My mama had some great advice

So I thought I’d put it into words of this song

I can still hear her sayin’

Boy, oh, I see you’re sittin’ out there all alone

Cryin’ your eyes out, ‘cause the woman that you love is gone

Oh, there’s gonna be, there’s gonna be a whole lot of trouble in your life

Oh, so listen to me and get up off your knees

‘Cause only the strong survive

That’s what she said

In elementary school, I didn’t quite understand the complexity of Butler’s message. Sure, I comprehended that a man was sad in relation to a failed romantic relationship. Though, I didn’t fully digest the Stoic principle his mom advocated.

Years later, when in high school, I watched a film entitled Only the Strong. It was about a soldier who returned to his hometown of Miami, after service in Brasil, and he used capoeira to defeat a criminal enterprise.

It was then that I was introduced to the berimbau, an instrument traditionally played as capoeiristas (practitioners of capoeira) simulate unarmed combat techniques. My favorite capoeira song is Paranauê Paraná (the name of a large river contracted with a greeting).

Per one source, lyrics reflect enslaved Brasilians who were required to fight in a war against Paraguay, and whom would be emancipated upon their survival and return to Brasil. These lyrics include:

Paranauê! Paranuê, Paraná

I am leaving this land

Here, I’ll never return, Paraná

Paranauê! Paranuê, Paraná

Here I am not loved,

But in my Land I am, Paraná

It’s difficult for me to accurately imagine what it would’ve been like to have been enslaved, fight on behalf of those who enslaved me, and maintain hope for freedom if I was able to live through war. I suspect an “only the strong survive” belief would have gotten me through the event.

Also when I was in high school, the hip hop classic film Menace II Society was released and the soundtrack featured a Too $hort joint entitled “Only the Strong Survive.” Lyrics include:

You say be a man, let’s go toe to toe

But that was like fifteen years ago

They say only the strong will survive

But brothers be strong and still they die

But you gotta get around that bullshit

All the things we used to do we can’t pull the shit no more

I didn’t fully grasp the rapper’s message at the time, because I was running the streets of my town while involved in behavior I thought made me appear strong. All these years later, I understand the existentialist message Too $hort conveyed.

While I tend not to advocate absolute tenets, such as that expressing “only” a particular entity can do this or that, I understand use of the arbitrary expression. Likewise, I comprehend how the antonym of “strong” is “weak,” as I’m less likely to value this subjective label in my day-to-day word usage.

All the same, tweaking “only the strong survive” to “some are capable of surviving” seems like a more flexible approach to life. Although, and admittedly, my minor adjustment of the phrase doesn’t quite evoke impassioned motivation to achieve a task.

Tijuca National Park

When I tell people I was stationed in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil during my military service, I usually hear the same mundane line of questioning in response. “How were the women?” sums up the uninteresting curiosity of most individuals I’ve encountered.

It’s as though men are perceived to be a single-minded, animalistic species who value sexuality more than any other aspect in life and my service in Rio could be summed up with a replied, “I love tits and ass, so I had a great time in the Cidade Marvilhosa [Marvelous City]!”

However, I have more physical restraint and conscientious discernment than to reduce my time in Brasil to nothing more than pleasure associated with hedonic pursuits. Particularly, concerning the current blogpost, I reflect upon a hiking expedition to the Parque Nacional da Tijuca (Tijuca National Park)—said to be one of the world’s largest urban forests.

Before going on a hike through the forest, I met up with my Brasilian friend from Jacarepaguá and his male acquaintance who was a member of the União dos Escoteiros do Brasil (national Scouting organization). In my buddy’s childhood home, which was on the outskirts of a favela, I observed a familiar setting to my own upbringing.

Though my friend’s familial setting was impacted by far more socioeconomic inequality than my own, my first childhood home was located in an impoverished area of Amarillo, Texas. Because of this, I was comfortable visiting the house of my buddy’s youth.

Instantly, I was welcomed into a small house with a dirt floor by my friend’s mom, his brother, and a couple of his brother’s friends. Capoeira music was played by the men while my carioca friend’s mom prepared a pre-hike meal for us.

Though underprivileged, laughter, music, and singing filled the home. These were people who had a legitimate grievance regarding their way of life, yet they appeared quite happy with the experience of their existence.

I imagine it took strength to not only survive, though to maintain a positive outlook on life. Along our hike, my friend told me that he and those with whom he was raised didn’t focus on what belongings they didn’t have, though instead considered the elements of life that were readily available.

For example, my buddy told me that what gave him strength was the very activity in which we were actively participating. Preferred companions interacting with nature and stopping along the way to appreciate beauty that surrounded us was said to be proof of fortitude in the face of suffering.

The Scout who accompanied us vocally agreed and offered a practical demonstration of how he valued the ability to eat fruit that grew from various plants which surrounded us. As I sampled a piece of produce, I was encouraged to listen for animal calls throughout the park.

I then began to understand that the simplicity of mere survival, unencumbered by the decadence of affluence, was what made my Brasilian friends strong. I further reflected upon a similar lesson I learned from my own rearing, which allowed me to survive traumatic experiences as a child.

My time in the Tijuca National Park was well spent, as was my time with meaningful friends from Brasil. I’ve since used the lessons I learned about simplicity to inform my practice of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).

Amassing strength through one’s ability to face and sit with discomfort, challenge unhelpful attitudes, and accept the limits of influence or control gives credence to the notion that some are capable of surviving the afflictions of life. Obrigado pela lição, Brasil!


In my youth, I heard that only the strong survive. This message came to me by way of music and film. Regarding the capoeira-influenced behavior exhibited in Only the Strong, one source states:

The capoeira circle is a place where knowledge and skills are learned by observation and imitation. It also functions as an affirmation of mutual respect between communities, groups and individuals and promotes social integration and the memory of resistance to historical oppression.

In adulthood, I was stationed in the Marvelous City and learned about capoeira, Brasilian history, and how my friends remained strong despite injustice. As well, I gained greater understanding about my own mental and emotional strength throughout life. Since then, I’ve incorporated similar lessons into my practice of REBT.

It isn’t necessarily the case that “only the strong survive,” though I think it’s self-evident that “some are capable of surviving” the challenges inherent in life. Would you like to know more about how I work with people to advocate making this objective possible?

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

As the world’s foremost old school hip hop REBT psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW


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