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Resilient individuals can build a resilient community

Resilient individuals can build a resilient community

Sometimes, bad things happen. And you do not really know how to react. Still, in many times you are able to find a way to obstacles in your life. The process of overcoming challenges is usually called resilience. But what is resilience exactly? And why resilience is needed for oneself and for the whole community? Such kind of questions seems to be quite psychological and philosophical at first glance – and they are in some ways – but actually, they might have a concrete impact on our lives.

To start from the beginning, let us say that the concept of resilience originally comes from physics and refers to the resistance of the metal. Thus, a piece of metal is said to be resilient if it can resist under pressure or even when you try to break it into thousands of pieces. In the industrial sector, some materials are specially used for this reason, because it is said that it is uneasy to break them.

When it comes to humankind, resilience deals with human vulnerability and the way we are able to face adversity in life. For instance, for some people, it takes some time to recover from a disease or from a car accident, but finally, they can make it. This is the reason why resilience commonly refers to the ability to overcome obstacles whatever they are.

However, even though resilience is proof of physical or psychological strength, this is not a synonym of invulnerability or invincibility. Resilience does not mean that we have to forget or to erase all the bad things that happened in our lives. It means that we can be aware of what happened in the past, that we can find a meaning to it, and that we can consider that there is a lesson to be learned from any difficult situation. For instance, you can be aware of your own failures, and you can learn from them in order to make sure that next time, you will not behave or do it in the same way as before.

Some psychologists started analyzing human resilience a long time ago, in order to know how some human beings are particularly able to overcome terrible ordeals, such as the loss of a parent or a close relative, or even terrible living conditions.

During the fifties, a young American psychologist, Emmy Werner, focused her research on children, especially on those who had been exposed to violence and poverty in their early lives. On a small island in Hawaii archipelago, she followed a group of nearly 700 children for the third decades of their lives. Among these children, some suffered from very bad living conditions. In spite of this tough background, a third of them became self-confident and caring young adults.

Norman Garmezy, another American psychologist, was also considered as a pioneer of the resilience theory. Over many years, mainly in the seventies, he visited schools across the country, focusing on those situated in economically depressed areas. He talked with a number of school principals, as well as with nurses and social and educational workers. He tried to focus on the reasons why some children – who were likely to become problematic kids, given their disturbing and poor social background – became surprisingly a source of pride for their parents and their professors. And he found out that some of these children were more resilient, which means, more adaptive to the circumstances than others.

At the end of the eighties, a British child psychologist, Michael Rutter, studied many Romanian orphans, who had been brought up in orphanages under Nicolae Ceausescu’s communist regime. In such places, these children used to live in very bad conditions, without any reliable adult to take care of them. Some English families adopted many of these young Romanians in the nineties, and Michael Rutter wanted to find out how these children grew up in their new families. His results plead for optimism, as some of them turned out to feel truly comfortable with themselves.

In other words, resilience may be considered as some kind of ‘resistance’ towards bad events. It is all about being and becoming more able to handle the emotional effects of certain living experiences whatever they are. Metaphorically, we could say that this is like a stress ball: you press it and you put pressure on it, and each time, it goes back to its previous status again.

A resilient person is usually able to find enough strength to transform one’s pain into joy. If you have ever been exposed to violence or hate, to become resilient means that you can find resources deep in your mind to turn violence or hate into kindness, creativity or generosity. In other words, you do not have to be hateful because someone has been hateful or disrespectful to you before.

Some people are obviously better than others at dealing with adversity. It may be a matter of culture somehow. And also a matter of practice, since people who had never face difficulties in their lives may be unable to deal with it. But it also appears that the role of relatives is very important: it is said that if you have the chance to live in a nice and friendly environment, and if you can find support among your community, it is easier to cope with difficulties that may occur.

To be resilient also means that you can help other people not to suffer from the same difficulties you happened to live in the past. So, in other words, resilient people can help build a better world. When it comes to a community or to any society, this concept of resilience has a very close connection with solidarity and with the way people stick together. For example, after a trauma or even a catastrophe – such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunami or any natural disaster – adaptability, and cooperation are far better than isolation or rejection. From a long-term perspective, we can infer that community resilience is linked to people’s ability to find common values to live together and to connect to solve problems. Therefore, in the end, the belief we should keep in mind is that we are stronger together.

Justine Canonne