As a resident of California who had to evacuate in recent months due to both fires and mudslides, not only do I feel as if the past few months were a blur, but myself and many others need to figure out how to get back into our old routines. People have often viewed me as a resilient person, but I believe that as we age, that trait becomes a harder one to master. In the past, whether it’s bouncing back from natural disasters, from the loss of a loved one, or overcoming a life obstacle such as cancer, my style is to just do what I have to do and then move on. In actuality, this is not a conscious decision, but rather, it’s a way of living. It’s a choice and a lifestyle that I believe is quite productive.
In his article, “Learning to Bounce Back,” Zolli said that our world has become more and more out of balance, and he addressed the idea of a broad-spectrum agenda to instill us with more “flexibility, intelligence, and responsiveness to extreme events.” He discussed the idea of “resilient thinking” and how urban planners might use the concept to update antiquated infrastructures, such as New York City’s subway system. Further, he stated that training regimes have been formulated, based in contemplative practice, to help individuals and groups become more resilient. However, he argued that if we are resilient, and adaptive to unwanted changes, then we might not be giving responsibility to those who might have caused a particular problem in the first place.
This leads me to the idea of prevention, which is always good policy, whether it pertains to health concerns or building codes. Many of us tend to lean more toward reactivity than prevention. We may only begin taking care of ourselves when we’re confronted with a particular diagnosis or health issue, or when a natural or man-made disaster strikes (such as 9–11).
Perhaps this is human nature, but do all these warnings suggest that we should change our way of thinking and being? Is there an overarching message? My sense is that when mishaps are properly understood, there’s a context for learning and growth. Paradoxically, some of the most resilient situations or places are those that are regularly exposed to some sort of disruption. The reason is because they carry the shared memory that, in fact, things can and do go wrong. Is that why New York City has had few major disruptions in the past decade or so? And is that why Harold Kushner’s book of a few decades ago, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, holds so much truth?
According to Richardson (2002), resilience refers to any individual differences or life experiences that might help people cope with adverse situations in a positive way by helping them deal with stress in the future, which could preclude the development of mental disorders. Those who are resilient are able to believe in themselves and their ability to effectively manage life’s challenges. Also, those who are more resilient than others tend to be more proactive and are more inclined to work hard to prevent certain issues and illnesses from occurring. It might be their only key to survival. It’s unclear if this is a nature-or-nurture character trait, but it certainly comes in handy when one needs to deal with adversity . . . and finding a way to move forward.
No doubt, learning how to deal with adversity or mishaps is a good thing. Zolli proposed that we find pragmatic and politically inclusive approaches to help us cope because they encourage us to roll with the waves instead of trying to stop the ocean.
We obviously all have different ways to manage stress, and therefore different strategies that could lead to a sense of resilience. Our spiritual beliefs and cultural backgrounds may also come into play when developing a sense of resilience.
Here are some suggestions to encourage a sense of resiliency:
Davidson, R. J. and S. Begley. (2012). The Emotional Life of Your Brain. England: Hudson Street Press.
Richardson, G. E. (2002). “The metatheory of resilience and resiliency. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 58, 307–21.
Zolli, A. (2012). “Learning to Bounce Back.” The New York Times. November 2. Opinion Pages.
Originally published at medium.com