We are told to be more resilient in the face of adversity, but is that just bullshit? First, definitions and quotations. The main segmentwill deal with the pros and cons of resilience, and we’ll finish off with a Disgruntled Nugget – a little piece of wisdom you can take with you, or not, I don’t care. Also thx to Audionautix and Partners In Rhyme for the music and sound effects.Support the show
Since we're talking about resilience today, and how it's a variable thing and some people struggle, now would be a good time to say you should be helping your neighbour. I mean this both metaphorically and literally. There are people in the place where you live that really need help, so please give any assistance you can to agencies like women's shelters, food banks and job boards and do what you can to help those people. On a more personal level, if you know of someone who lives near you, maybe reach out and see if you can help person-to-person during this difficult time. You should always be looking for ways to help your fellow humans, but now, more than ever, your help may make the biggest difference. Do this today please. Thanks.
So today, we're talking about resilience, and specifically, that how we approach resilience, both as a word and as a personality trait, is utterly bullshit. There are both clearly understood and nuanced reasons why it's bullshit, but it will not change the texture or the smell. I know this may not seem like a logical stance on this topic, but if you buckle in it will all make sense before we're done. Let's get started.
There is a dictionary definition for the word "resilience", but I think we're better served looking for a meaning from the views of the psychology world. So we have Dr. Ann Masten, a psychology professor specializing in child development at the University of Minnesota, who defines resilience as “the capacity of a system to adapt successfully to significant challenges that threaten its function, viability, or development”. As already mentioned, this concept of resilience is better suited for industrial paint or floor wax, but with this definition in our pocket, let's look at some quotations for context.
Our first quote comes from Julie S. Lalonde, a Franco-Ontarian women's rights advocate, author, and educator who works tirelessly on public education on sexual violence, harassment, consent, and bystander intervention. Her first book, "Resilience is Futile: The Life and Death and Life of Julie S. Lalonde", won numerous awards as has her advocacy. In an interview, she is quoted as saying, "For me it is a matter of recognizing my resilience did not save me: my resilience is not why I'm here today and a lack of resilience is not the reason why there are so many women and girls who are not here." This speaks volumes for the approach I'm taking today, stay tuned.
Our second quote comes from Henry Ward Beecher, the American Congregationalist clergyman, social reformer, and speaker, known for his support of the abolition of slavery. He was the brother to Harriet Beecher Stowe, who authored the seminal abolitionist work Uncle Tom's Cabin and who walked the walk and talked the talk on abolitionism and was a 1,000 times better of a human being than her shitty brother Henry who, in the end, is best known for his adultery than his advocacy. He said, "Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anybody else expects of you. Never excuse yourself. Never pity yourself. Be a hard master to yourself-and be lenient to everybody else." Large words about resilience coming from a cowardly do-nothing clergyman. Boy, am I judge-y today or what? Wow.
Our last quote comes from Shane Koyczan, a Canadian spoken word poet, writer, and member of the group Tons of Fun University. He is known for writing about issues like bullying, cancer, death, and eating disorders. He is most famous for the anti-bullying poem “To This Day” which has over 24 million views on YouTube. He is know widely for saying, “If your heart is broken, make art with the pieces.” This is dramatic, but fits in perfectly with what we're talking about today, so let's get into this thing.
So by now I'm sure you're asking yourself why the hell I'm so at odds with resilience. The truth is that it's not what you think it is. Everyone is familiar with the expression from Friedrich Nietzsche's Twilight of the Idols that says, in part, “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” It turns out that this is only partially true – not everyone possesses the ability to persevere following trauma. In fact, those who have fewer tools to deal with trauma and stress can find the term both archaic and condescending. Dr. Zoë Krupka - Psychotherapy Lecturer at the Cairnmillar Institute says of this that, "One of our most persistent psychological myths is that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Abuse and disadvantage in fact have the opposite effect. We are weakened, and in some cases permanently diminished by significant traumas." That's right. And it's not the strong, shiny, awesome personality trait you think it is. More often, it marginalizes sufferers of anxiety and depression, and rewards those who work though trauma to satisfy a higher power, like their boss. This is extremely unhealthy for both parties.
So why do we bow down to the gods of resilience? Well, the short answer is, it's demanded of us in the name of productivity. But if we don't build in periods of recovery from trauma and stress, simply "pushing through" hurts us even more. In a book by Dr. Jim Loehr and writer Tony Schwartz titled "The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal" it states that, "if you have too much time in the performance zone, you need more time in the recovery zone, otherwise you risk burnout. Mustering your resources to 'try hard' requires burning energy in order to overcome your currently low arousal level. This is called upregulation. It also exacerbates exhaustion." Yet we're taught this misconception of resilience at an early age from parents trying to teach their children resilience by celebrating a high school student staying up until dawn to finish a science fair project. This is the root of the problem, and we're all suckers for buying into it. Yes you too, Steve.
But are we more productive when we use our resilience and "push through"? In a book titled "The Sleep Revolution", Arianna Huffington writes, "We sacrifice sleep in the name of productivity, but ironically our loss of sleep, despite the extra hours we spend at work, adds up to 11 days of lost productivity per year per worker, or about $2,280." This was only six years ago, so the dollar figure is still about right, and in US dollars at that. Even further, in a paper published in the journal Ergonomics titled "Need for recovery from work related fatigue and its role in the development and prediction of subjective health complaints", it released findings that suggest that "repeated insufficient recovery invokes cumulated fatigue and will lead to subjective complaints and health deterioration on the longer term." So should we continue to kill ourselves or is their something better for us? I have some suggestions.
There are three things that you can do to change the conversation away from resilience. The first angle is to realize that resilience, fundamentally, doesn't exist as a simple construct. We all have multiple ways of coping with stress, some better than others. But when the ability to cope is given a specific name and framed as a desirable trait, it becomes condescending, especially to those with less ability to cope well. Telling someone who's not doing well emotionally that they really just need more resilience is a bullshit and insensitive perspective, as if that person can just go down to the hardware store and grab a goddamn can of extra-strength resilience. It's not that simple, and we should be thinking more about finding out why that person is having difficulty and give them real tools to recover from the stress or trauma they are experiencing. And we already talked about recovery periods, but it's not like there's a quiz or anything.
Additionally, we need to stop thinking about this mythical resilience as some noble trait. By doing that, we put those who have more tools to cope in positions where they expect others to be able to cope just like they can. This may lead to further stress, especially in the work place, and we end up amplifying the stress and the further need to be better at coping with it. More pain is never a way to deal with initial pain. It's like kicking a brick wall with your bare feet so that your feet hurt so much, you forget about your headache. It really is that stupid.
And I'm not trying to say people in higher positions who cope well are evil - although they sometimes are - what I'm saying is they may not realize their abilities are not transferable, and we need to create space for everyone, regardless of their ability to cope with stress, without putting so much pressure on vulnerable folks to grab a bigger goddamn piece of resilience.
And, finally, for everyone, those with a higher degree of coping skills and those struggling, remember that work/life balance is a thing, and your life is more important than the stress of achieving, especially if you're experiencing trauma, regardless of what happened, or when. We all need to carve out those big spaces in our lives where we can realize actual recovery. Sometimes, we need to carve out those spaces for ourselves, sometimes for others, but this comes back to the one word I've repeated on this podcast time and again, empathy. Understand why others are having a hard time, offer resources or tools if you can, and provide recovery time and space if that's an option. Try to understand your own struggles and don't be afraid to find support communities that can help you. This may require a proactive approach, and maybe some other, tangible and learn-able skills like time management. But stop judging, or placing people on some mythical resilience hierarchy, and let's all just make time and space so that we can all live our lives with more positive outcomes.
Okay, so that’s it for this episode. As always, I’ll leave you with a Disgruntled nugget in a second, but first I want to thank you for listening. Remember to subscribe to this podcast, I’m on all the major platforms, and please visit www.disgruntledlifecoach.ca for all my podcasts – if you're following along, I'm not even going to talk about the w-w-w – oops, there I go. Please also follow me on twitter @lifedisgruntled, there’s a link on my website – DM me if you want some stickers. Have you heard about my stickers? They're free. Also, if you like what you’ve heard today, tell your friends. If you think this is ridiculous, still, tell your friends, I mean how hard is that?
The 17th century Japanese poet and samurai Mizuta Masahide once said of resilience that, "My barn having burned down, I can now see the moon." Centuries later, the late, great Maya Angelou said "I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it." Most recently, Michelle Obama said "Grief and resilience live together." So we respond to grief with resilience until our barn burns down, but then we can see the moon through the changes and not reduce the grief, or something, I don't know, whatever...
Again, thanks for listening, and thanks also to Audionautix and Partners in Rhyme for music and sound FX, thanks again to Neatnik for visuals, and thanks for your patience - see you in two weeks, or not, whatever...