I often meet people who refer to themselves as tough. My perception, at times, is quite the opposite: I see them as mean-spirited. What exactly does it mean to be tough?
Ford Motor Company manufactures several size trucks. Their tag line is "Ford trucks, built tough". In the auto industry, tough refers to the ability to withstand more than the average. These vehicles have the strength to carry extremely heavy loads. They are built to withstand the elements, gripping the road even in inclement weather. They don't allow rocky, jagged terrain to slow them down nor do they break if they hit a pothole. And they outlast their competitors. What they (the trucks) don't do is run other cars off the road, drive recklessly or disregard the safety of other drivers.
In life, tough people have similar characteristics: they face difficult situations without falling apart. They persevere where others quit. They take on huge challenges without faltering. They carry heavier loads than the average person. And they out perform all others. They do not behave irresponsibly towards one another.
There are those who confuse being mean-spirited with being tough. They are proud to curse someone out; they brag about their eagerness to engage in physical altercations; they feel completely justified in blurting out whatever's on their mind regardless of how the other party may feel or react. They see nothing offensive about their behavior. They claim to have no fear.
But that's not tough. Tough is characterized by strength; meanness by malice. One who is tough has deep courage and conviction, an inner determination, an unwavering perseverance in the face of adversity. One who is mean-spirited lacks compassion and sensitivity and is driven by ego and insecurity (fear). There's a vast difference.*