Do the best that you can…

Do the best that you can with what you have where you are right now. — poster in a high school science teacher’s classroom

That’s wonderful advice for all of us that applies in many situations.

And it’s likely an approach to life used by many resilient people.

But because resilient people are resourceful, consider these additions to it:

Do the best that you can by expanding what you know and can do through lifelong learning

With what you have, and with what you can acquire by using your learning and resourcefulness to provide additional tools to more effectively accomplish your goals

Where you are right now, and, when appropriate, by changing your physical location or your mental perspective about the place where you are.

What do you do to continuously expand the boundaries of your best self?

Some of my favorite questions

question: [kwes-chuh n]/noun

1. a sentence in an interrogative form, addressed to someone in order to get information in reply.

2. a problem for discussion or under discussion; a matter for investigation.

3. a matter of some uncertainty or difficulty; problem (usually followed by of).

4. a subject of dispute or controversy.

Resilient people are resourceful, which means they enjoy the challenges presented by intriguing questions and the ambiguous situations or problems they may pose.

Such questions cause people to think more deeply about important things and to think thoughts that they otherwise would not have thought.

Here are two of my favorite questions:

• What would you do if you had more than enough money to support yourself and your family for a lifetime? What goals would you pursue and how would you spend your time?

• What significant challenge would you take on if you knew you could not fail? Or, put another way, what important things would you do if you were not afraid?

And here are a few questions that specifically address resilience:

• What core beliefs or principles would you not compromise?

• When will you stand firm, when will you bend, and how will you decide?

• What strengths do you bring to situations that require resilience?

• What people, groups, or other resources do you draw upon during challenging times for inspiration, clarity, and guidance?

• What lessons has your life taught you about surviving and even thriving during difficult times?

What are your favorite questions?

Inviting “big talk”

Make a life in which you are having the conversations you want to have.” — Laura Mott

Resilient people are proactive, and one of the ways they demonstrate that quality is by creating conversations that matter to them with their families and friends and in their work settings.

Think of those conversations as “big” rather than “small.”

While small talk has important purposes, large talk matters because it is far more likely to produce meaningful learning and to strengthen relationships.

During these conversations participants come to understand important things about themselves, each other, and the subject under discussion.

The world would be a better place, I believe, if such conversations were more frequently cultivated in families and the workplace.

In an earlier post I wrote that conversations for learning require:

• intentionality, 

• deep and mindful listening, 

• slowness that provides opportunities for thinking and elaboration, 

• an openness to learning based on a deep respect for the experiences and perspectives of others, and

an invitation, which may be as simple and straight forward as “please tell me more.” (Australian educator Edna Sackson explains how even difficult conversations can be improved when they begin with such invitations.)

What “requirements” would you add to my list?

Resilience can be fostered by…

“Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours.” —Jane Kenyon

Resilience can be fostered by:

Reflecting on our life experiences, extracting important lessons from those experiences, and acting in ways that are consistent with those lessons

Using our strengths to achieve important goals

• Doing the “difficult thing to maintain momentum in important areas of our lives

Recognizing that courage does not mean the absence of fear but rather acting in the presence of it

Being part of an ongoing community that offers clarity of purpose, interpersonal support, and exemplars of the people we hope to become

Reading biographies and autobiographies to deepen our understanding of how others have been tested and strengthened through adversity

Being a “good steward of your gifts” in the ways Jane Kenyon recommends.

What would you add to my list?

Qualities of resilient people

We never know how our small activities will affect others through the invisible fabric of our connectedness. In this exquisitely connected world, it’s never a question of  “critical mass.” It’s always about critical connections. —Grace Lee Boggs

Resilient people: 

• Are intentional. That is, they are “on purpose” rather than reactive.

Understand that what they do today affects tomorrow. That is, they understand that all things are connected in sometimes subtle and often profound ways.

Display integrity in all areas of life. Because they are honest and keep their promises, people trust them.

Are clear and forthright in assessing current reality, which helps them better understand the root causes of problems and evaluate the actions that are necessary to solve them.

• Align their daily actions with their values and most important goals.

• Are hopeful for a better future which they are motivated to help create.

As a result of these qualities, resilient people are influential, which in turn often thrusts them into leadership roles.

What would you add to this list?

3 primary threats to public education

We are not in an education crisis. We are in a crisis of poverty that is being exacerbated by the school accountability movement and the testing industry. At best, this movement has been misguided. At worst, it is an intentional set up to bring about the demise of the public education system – mandatory testing designed to produce poor results which leads to greater investment made in test preparation programs provided by the same companies who produce the tests, coupled with a related push for privatization of the educational system. All touted as a means to save us from this false crisis. Politics, not education, got us into this mess, and it is politics that must get us out of it. —Kristina L. Taylor

A robust system of public education is essential for a thriving democracy and a growing economy.

Historically, Americans have invested in public institutions.

Nikole Hannah-Jones describes that history in a piece titled, “Have We Lost Sight of the Promise of Public Schools?”:

“Early on, it was this investment in public institutions that set America apart from other countries. Public hospitals ensured that even the indigent received good medical care — health problems for some could turn into epidemics for us all. Public parks gave access to the great outdoors not just to the wealthy who could retreat to their country estates but to the masses in the nation’s cities. Every state invested in public universities. Public schools became widespread in the 1800s, not to provide an advantage for particular individuals but with the understanding that shuffling the wealthy and working class together (though not black Americans and other racial minorities) would create a common sense of citizenship and national identity, that it would tie together the fates of the haves and the have-nots and that doing so benefited the nation. A sense of the public good was a unifying force because it meant that the rich and the poor, the powerful and the meek, shared the spoils — as well as the burdens — of this messy democracy….”

Public schools today are being profoundly affected by strong social and political forces that those invested in the future of this country cannot ignore.

Those forces are part of a larger anti-public institution agenda that has been gaining momentum for several decades.

Public education as we know it has, in my view, three primary threats:

1. Radical capitalists who believe that maximum profit should be extracted from every revenue source, including those provided by taxpayers to support the public good.  A primary strategy to divert funds intended for public education is to denigrate and create distrust regarding teachers, teacher unions, and, most of all, public education in general.

2. Poverty and low-quality healthcare that has a particularly profound affect in impoverished neighborhoods and communities on the ability of young people to learn and on their overall well-being. (You can read more about the effects of poverty on children here and here.)

3. The possibility that unrelenting attacks on teachers and the consequences of high-stakes testing and other “reforms” will demoralize teachers and create a sense of resignation about the chances for meaningful improvement. That, in turn, would provide a further opportunity for radical capitalists to exert their will over public education.

Nonetheless, Hannah-Jones continues to place her faith in public schools:

“If there is hope for a renewal of our belief in public institutions and a common good, it may reside in the public schools. Nine of 10 children attend one, a rate of participation that few, if any, other public bodies can claim, and schools, as segregated as many are, remain one of the few institutions where Americans of different classes and races mix. The vast multiracial, socioeconomically diverse defense of public schools that DeVos set off may show that we have not yet given up on the ideals of the public — and on ourselves.”   

Although public education has been an important force for the common good over many generations of students, there is no guarantee that it will continue to play its historic role in American life.

It remains to be seen if the public good provided by public education is sufficiently resilient to withstand these threats as they are intensified over the next several years.

What would you add to or subtract from my list?

Sustaining resilience

I am not a physicist nor biologist, but two words come to mind when I think of the challenges we all face in sustaining resilience over time: entropy and atrophy.

en·tro·py: ˈentrəpē/noun: lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder: synonyms: deterioration, degeneration, crumbling, decline, degradation, decomposition, breaking down, collapse

at·ro·phy: ˈatrəfē/verb: gradual decline in effectiveness or vigor due to underuse or neglect

Because of entropy and atrophy, resilience, like other human capacities, inevitably declines without attention, intention, and persistence.

That means that resilient people push back against entropy and atrophy by:

Developing routines and habits consistent with their values and goals. Resilient people understand that if too many demands are placed on their willpower it will fatigue and become overwhelmed.

Maintaining the discipline of doing difficult things, the things they would prefer not to do but know are important.

What do you do to remain resilient during challenging times?


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