It is during uncertain times like our current COVID-19 crisis where we see Positive Psychology in practice. Since the world feels a little scary and very unpredictable right now, I thought we would take a deep dive into resilience. What is it? Are you born with it or is it acquired along the way? What can you do to get more?
Merriam Webster defines resilience as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change”. Our team at Positive Minds International gives that definition 2 thumbs down!
- Implying resilience is easy isn’t okay.
- Blaming misfortune denies your important role in resilience
We like to think of resilience as choosing to work through challenges so you become stronger than you were previously.
It’s similar to the way our bones become stronger they more we use our muscles. No gain without a little pain!
Another example is Kintsugi 金継ぎ, the Japanese approach to ceramics founded in a belief that damaged pottery shouldn’t simply be neglected or thrown away. Repairing with enormous care symbolizes a sort of reconciliation with the flaws.
Kin = golden
tsugi = joinery
Literally, ‘to join with gold’.
Resilience came from the word resiliens, used in the 1600s to describe how organic matter could bounce back to what it was before – like bamboo in the wind.
The American Psychological Association’s definition is more aligned with the way we teach resilience-
“Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress”
Some of our favourite research on resilience comes from the Institute for Child Development at the University of Minnesota where Ann Masten refers to resilience as “ordinary magic”.
Masten’s checklist for resilient children includes:
- Capable caregiving and parenting
- Other close relationships
- Problem-solving skills
- Self-regulation skills
- Motivation to succeed
- Faith, hope, belief life has meaning
- Effective schools
- Effective communities
- Effective cultural practices
Here’s an excellent teaching story about resilience:
A young woman went to her mother and complained that everything in her life was going wrong; her relationship had fallen apart. She was in a job that felt repetitive and mindless and she was lonely- she felt she had hit rock bottom. As the young woman started to cry, her mother went to the stove and put 3 pots of water on to boil. In one she placed a carrot, in one an egg, and in the last some coffee beans. The mother sat silently as the daughter dried her tears and watched all 3 pots boil. After a while the mother asked the daughter to feel the carrot which was soft, to crack the egg which was now hard, and to taste the coffee which was delicious. The mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity. When the carrot was placed in the water it had been strong, hard, unrelenting and yet it came out soft and weak. The egg had been fragile with a soft center and it came out hardened and unforgiving but still easy to crack. The coffee beans were unique- they had changed the water. In the face of adversity, the beans adapted by changing the world around them.
As our team prepares this post the world has been rocked by COVID-19. Like many past challenges humans have encountered ( AIDs, smallpox, Y2K) the fear can either set off a panic ultimately leading to isolation and desperation or it can be the precursor to a new way of working together to overcome it. The difference that we see, the thing that separates the carrot and egg from the coffee bean, is hope.
How does this relate to you? If you are an educator or a parent, it’s important to note one recent study showed that better educational opportunities were associated with resilience, hope and emotional wellbeing. And yet, there has never been greater uncertainty around education than we see today. I like to see the opportunity this gives us- for far too long we have let the system of education dictate both what is and what is not possible for our children. I believe the chaos of COVID will settle, leaving in its wake an opportunity to rethink education.
“It’s your reaction to adversity, not adversity itself that determines how your life’s story will develop.”
― Dieter F. Uchtdorf
I invite you to share your dreams for the future of education. Let’s imagine a system where every child’s strengths are seen and harnessed. where curiosity continues to flourish throughout the teen years and where we empowered learners with the skills they will need to be their best and do their best as lifelong learners and leaders.
Check out our Facebook group for ideas on helping children foster resilsince.