During a recent session of channel surfing (yes, I’m GenX, and yes, I still channel surf), I came across an old favorite movie: Rocky.

Let me start this post by saying: If you haven’t seen Rocky (the original, first film in the series, from 1976), please stop reading immediately and queue it up on Netflix. You’re welcome). While the later Rocky movies were heavy on the glitz and spectacle, this first one was more quiet, more tender, and a more nuanced character study of Rocky and Adrian. 

My favorite movies are the ones that I can watch again and again and keep picking up new meaning and insights. In this most recent viewing, a less-famous line from a famous scene really hit me in the gut (no pun intended). It’s the night before Rocky’s big fight with Apollo Creed. He sneaks out of his apartment in the middle of the night, leaving a sleeping Adrian behind, and goes to the fight venue alone, just to look and think. He returns home, sits on the edge of the bed, and quietly says:

Rocky : I can’t do it.

Adrian : What?

Rocky : I can’t beat him.

Adrian : Apollo?

Rocky : Yeah. I been out there walkin’ around, thinkin’. I mean, who am I kiddin’? I ain’t even in the guy’s league.

Adrian : What are we gonna do?

Rocky : I don’t know.

The next lines in that scene are more famous. It’s where Rocky talks about just wanting to “go the distance” with Creed, because no one has ever done that, and if he can just go the distance, he’ll know he’s not just another “bum from the neighborhood.” 

What struck me from this scene, though, was Adrian’s line: What are we gonna do?

In that moment, she could have given Rocky a big speech about being able to do whatever he puts his mind to. She could have tried to pump up his ego. She could have made an argument about how Rocky trained hard and has the hunger of an up-and-comer, while Creed isn’t taking the fight seriously. Instead, with that simple line, she encapsulates her character and her relationship with Rocky.

When she asks “What are we gonna do?”, she shows that she believes in Rocky, because she shows that she trusts his judgment, his wisdom. No one else has seen Rocky’s wisdom. They’ve seen his physical stature, his strength, his affability, and perhaps even his unwise choices, but only Adrian sees that he is wise and knowing. To pump him up with a rousing motivational speech would have belittled him, akin to saying “I know better than you.” And when she says “What are WE gonna do?”, rather than “What are YOU gonna do?”, she shows that she’s in this situation, and in this life, WITH him. 

When people in our lives — family, friends, colleagues — show vulnerability, do we let them be vulnerable? Do we acknowledge their inner wisdom? Or do we try to paper over their vulnerability with a rousing speech and, perhaps unwittingly, degenerate their own sense of knowing? 

Yes, sometimes we need to pump people up. Sometimes we need to be the cheerleader, reminding them of their talents and strengths. But sometimes it’s more powerful and supportive to let people acknowledge their uncertainties and assure them that we are in it with them. In some moments, it’s Adrian’s quiet, observant, honest style that packs the greatest punch.


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