On Resilience: Part 2

On Resilience: Part 2

I am a huge Boston Red Sox fan of very long standing. For those of you who are not, this year the Red Sox achieved something that had eluded them for 95 years in that they won the World Series in front of the hometown fans! Babe Ruth was playing for the Red Sox the last time they achieved the same- it has been a long time.Last season the Red Sox came in last in their division and earlier this year, Boston was hit by tragedy during the Boston Marathon. The Red Sox win is not just the end of a 95 year ‘drought’, not only a huge ‘rebound’,  it is also a realization of the legacy of ‘Boston Strong’ a communal commitment to not being defeated by senseless violence. Victory is often sweet, but resilience has more staying power.Resilience is generally defined as a person’s capacity to overcome stress and adversity. But resilience also can be defined in the context of a community. People draw their own personal capacity to bounce back and overcome by incorporating the power and strength of the social and cultural networks they are part of, and from the practices which are part of their community. Prof. Thomas Homer-Dixon of Balsillie School of International Affairs of the University of Waterloo http://www.balsillieschool.ca/people/thomas-homer-dixon  has said “If we want to thrive, we need to move from a growth imperative to a resilience imperative.” His work focuses on physical communities, not baseball teams, but every community can benefit from:

  • A ‘can do’ attitude with a spirit of cooperation.
  • A learning orientation so that they understand their challenges and are committed to working through them, learning from their progress as they work towards their goals.
  • A caring approach so that those most in need are attended to.
  • Self reliance so that the community uses its internal resources and is strategic in prioritizing.

This past weekend a devastating typhoon hit the Philippines.  The information about the extent of the tragedy emerges slowly (comparatively) because the hard hit areas lose access to communicative resources. In the initial phases, the members of the community are entirely reliant on themselves and then government systems, external agencies and financial resources from outside typically will come in.  In addition to providing resources directly, agencies will look for the existing systems of community support to build on. There may be a ‘leader’ or it could be an ‘infrastructure’ that becomes the focus around which change happens as the community rebuilds.There are events which take place which are out of the control of a community, such as this one.  Fostering a sense of resilience cannot prevent the event, but it can change the way both individuals and the community itself feels as the situation is unfolding and as they create something new.The science of ‘positive psychology’ has a meaningful seat at the table when we talk about modern approaches to psychological well being.  Dr. Martin Seligman talks about the idea of ‘inoculating a person with challenge.’ The idea of this is that, just as a vaccination prepares our body to fight back against a more significant infectious disease challenge, we can also use the same approach to cultivate a sense of resiliency.  Small events make us aware of the need to maintain a hearty attitude in the face of struggle.  Cumulatively, the small experiences are a signal that we need to ready us for the bigger challenges ahead.After a typhoon we might look to our own preparedness more completely. We might make sure have canned foods, candles, matches, a communication source and potable water, for example.     We can also use the ‘getting ready’ to reflect on the attributes of our community and how we fare in terms of ‘resiliency readiness.’  No place feels very far these days. Events in Boston or the Philippines  are part of our daily news and conversation.  We donate money, send prayers, and talk about them on Facebook.  Hopefully we and our children learn from them as well to cultivate the sort of community resilience that has been shown time and time again to create remarkable growth from challenging times.

Roby Marcou MD
Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrician
Novena Medical CenterSingapore

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