Revisiting Resilience

I have been tapped to give a talk to some writin’ buddies on the topic of resilience. The general theme suggested was persistence, but I can get more fired up about resilience because I think it’s over-sold and over-promised.

First, resilience as a quality is positive. It’s stubbornness with a halo, and stubbornness is not always a good thing. The purslane that so resiliently regrows in my flowerbeds after I rip up as much as I can, would be better advised to spend that resilience sending some shoots out along the roadside, where I would leave it alone. Give up and move on, in other words, and to blazes with unthinking resilience.

Second, resilience inherently places on the individual (or church, business, school…) responsibility for rebounding from what might well be a societally approved harm. After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans was supposed to be resilient (and it was). All the resilience in the world won’t stop another major flood if the politicians in charge don’t build a better levee system. There’s a line between, “I didn’t get into my A-school so I will keep applying elsewhere,” and, “The game is rigged against me, and I alone cannot fix that.” Relentless cheerleading for resilience obscures that line.

Keep trying! Never give up! A winner is a loser who didn’t quit! Grit is the answer!

Meh. Third, if we value resilience, we are inherently valuing the status quo ante, the status to which we are trying to return, which–possibly for good reasons–blew up in our faces.  The employer exhorting us to “get back to the office to revitalize our downtown…” is forgetting that downtown in many cases was polluted, congested, expensive, ugly, and unsafe. Moreover, for many women the commute to downtown was full of sexual harassment or worse. Downtown didn’t work so very well in many cases, and by insisting we rebound to that norm, we’re missing a splendid opportunity to do better.

So I turn a jaundiced eye on the blanket positivity resilience is supposed to conjure. I’m much more likely to encourage people to re-evaluate their expectations, to hand back to society at large responsibility for systemic problems, to think of ways to swerve the whole resilience mindset, and envision a new normal that simply works for now. I’m aware that my attitude might mean my life is smaller and less impressive than it could be–but also less frustrating and exhausting.

If, after a period of stress and trouble, I have the resources to reach for more distant stars, lectures on resilience aren’t likely to inspire me to capture them. But that’s just me.

Where does the concept of resilience leave you? (And do you have any advice for burned out writers who all just want to go a conference and hang out in person with each other?) No give away this week. I’m instead donating to the World Food Program.


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13 comments on “Revisiting Resilience

  1. I think of resilience as being able to recover from something bad, though not necessarily in exactly the same way. I always thought it was dumb for people who lived along the rivers outside Chicago, that flooded pretty regularly, to be proud of the fact that they were going to rebuild in exactly the same place! If the flooding was a very unusual occurrence, that would have been somewhat okay but it happened every few years (I only lived in Chicago 8 years and it happened at least twice that I recall, so not unusual). But everybody was proud of their “resilience” and they were proud, too.
    I applaud the idea of picking yourself up if you can and trying again, but we should take a look at what happened and try to avoid/prevent it in the future (yes, I think we should build back better now that we have the opportunity though it doesn’t look like enough people have learned from our previous mistakes).

  2. Resilience for me means many things.Through my lifetime,which has had many highs and lows many sad and testing times I have tried to stand firm and figure out my way forward.I had some family,friends who would call me stubborn,wilful,stupid,not thinking straight,losing the plot.Others would stick with me despite my digging trenches and building walls.Their resilience in helping me through difficult times and being there is what I thank them for,they are my closest family and true friends.I am there for them we are in it together—–Tears laughter to the finish line.My thoughts are with the people of Ukraine their resilience is costing them the highest price of all.

  3. Resilience means different things to me at different times. It could mean being able to over overcome adversities no matter what. It could mean persistence, no matter what. It could mean bouncing back after a setback, better than you started. Whatever it means, coming out the same or better or not shaken is a good thing to strive for.

    Persistence is something that has been a main focus in my life; no matter what happens, I keep on keeping on! 🙂

  4. World Food Program is the epitome of resilient. No matter how many times they respond to yet another food crisis, they are still right there for the next– and they keep on going and going.

    Thanks for the reminder about this superb program. I’ve been hesitant about where my donation for Ukraine would do the most good. Now I know.

  5. I had a poster in the early 80’s. It depicted a rider on a bucking bronc, titled “Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst. Take what comes.”

    That speaks to me of resilience.

    “Think truly, and thy thoughts
    Shall the world’s famine feed.”

    Glad there are those who feed the hungry. If you’d like to join us for lunch today, there will be pot roast and potatoes.

  6. Creating Resilience means doing fun things like spending time with other writers, friends, napping, enjoying time in nature, *recharging* body and soul. Just. Being.

    It’s been incredibly frustrating to see/hear resilience – meditation – mindfulness getting twisted to push people to ignore the problems in the status quo or to work longer and harder for companies for less pay.

    Resilience is being able to to bounce back not keep digging the hole deeper. Saying No, even no thank you, is part of Resilience.

    I hope all the writers at the conference enjoy themselves, enjoy being together.

  7. I’m tapped out on resilience. Right now I am just prioritizing what is most important to get done, and grimly getting it done. You’d probably be amazed (and horrified) at what I can let slide. As long as we have food in the house, clean clothes, and the plumbing and heating and cooling work, I figure I’m doing okay.

  8. Good on you for your donation to the World Food Program.

    Resilience has come in handy at this stage of my life. It helps me to keep on keeping on. I have to work at being positive and avoiding the negative, but the payoff is worth it. Laughter, prayer, meditation, reading my favorite authors, and yes giving what I can to others helps to give quality to my life.

  9. For me, it’s survival. Sideways, upside down, skidding in flailing with my clothes on inside out…whatever it takes to keep on moving on. I can readjust the flight path for onwards & upwards once I’m flying stable & mostly level again.

    As for meeting in person…that’s a project for a future time when the economy is better & the world’s got a lot more stability than it does right now. Until then, I’m beyond grateful I live in a time & place where I can switch on a device & here voices or see videos. I’m old enough to remember when international calls had to be booked in advance at exorbitant prices & a long distance call at peak hours could cost as much as a 24 gallon tank of gas

  10. I love your comments about resilience, Grace- you are so right! Especially about making an individual suck it up and soldier in in the face of societal screw-ups.
    Preach it, sister!

  11. Stubbornness can be more stupid than gritty. Depends, right. I agree that resilience has a more positive vibe so I found your essay especially interesting. To me, resilience is getting back up and starting again as best I can. Sometimes my best is just getting up out of bed and getting dressed. I also believe my best is different than another’s best so I don’t judge. I like your ideas about not depending on resilience but putting effort into preventing resilience from being necessary. Very profound. Thank you.

  12. For me resilience goes beyond ordinary persistence and stubborness. Resilience brings up images of life or death situations: against whatever challenges need to be overcome. Persistence and stubborness are both needed in those cases but resilience is at the core. That said all three can be either useful or kind of stupid depending on the situation. I’ve been known for persistence and stubborness both wisely and very, very stupidly.

    Thanks for donating to help feed those in need!