Archive for the 'courage' Category

What is resilience, and how do we get it?

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. That line of Hemingway’s is famous for good reason. What sticks in most people’s minds is the phrase “strong at the broken places.” It’s also important to remember his qualifier: many. Not all. Not all of us are strong at the broken places. To be strong at the broken places is to be resilient. Being broken, by itself, does not make us better. Hardship can create a helpless person or a heroic one. – Eric Greitens, Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life

Is resilience simply a synonym for perseverance or strength in the face of hardship? Or is it just another way of looking at concepts like grit or emotional intelligence?

Is resilience something we are born with, inherit from the early modeling of elders, or acquire as a result of challenging life events?

Does it mean “recovery” to a previous way of being after a disrupting event, or does it mean “growth” to a stronger, more resourceful way of life?

Can we cultivate resilience in ourselves in preparation for life challenges by intentionally stretching ourselves into a new and even transformative way of being?

What is resilience?

The Resilience Research Centre defines resilience as a return to normalcy:

“Most commonly, the term resilience has come to mean an individual’s ability to overcome adversity and continue his or her normal development,” the organization says.

Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy in Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back, see resilience as learning how to live effectively in a “new normal”:

“[A]ny number of sudden and serious disruptions might cause you to be ‘flipped’ over the threshold separating your present context and a new one…. Unfortunately, many of these thresholds may be crossed only in one direction: Once forces have compelled you into a new circumstance, it may be impossible for you to return to your prior environment. You’ll have entered a new normal.”

An example: Individuals who have lost a loved one to death often use the term “new normal” to describe their lives after the loss.

On the other hand, Eric Greitens, in Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life, views resilience as an expression of growth:

“Resilience is the virtue that enables people to move through hardship and become better. No one escapes pain, fear, and suffering. Yet from pain can come wisdom, from fear can come courage, from suffering can come strength—if we have the virtue of resilience….

An example: After a traumatic life event such as a divorce or loss of a job some people say in retrospect that “it was the best thing that ever happened to me” because it enabled possibilities that were not previously seen.

For my own purposes I have synthesized this working definition:

re·sil·ience\ri-ˈzil-yən(t)s\ noun: the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful after misfortune or disruptive change

That is, resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity, sometimes in a new and stronger form, to not only survive, but at least in some circumstances to thrive.

In many ways resilience is an organizer for understanding and integrating the qualities that enable individuals and organizations to persevere and sometimes thrive in the face of change and even hardship.

Those ideas and practices include but are not limited to emotional and social intelligence, positive psychology, a growth mindset, and grit, ideas and practices that can be found in many of my posts.

Perhaps the most important question is: Can we develop resilience in preparation for life’s inevitable challenges?

The Mayo Clinic says we can:

“Resilience won’t make your problems go away — but resilience can give you the ability to see past them, find enjoyment in life and better handle stress. If you aren’t as resilient as you’d like to be, you can develop skills to become more resilient.’

In Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy reach a similar conclusion:

“New scientific research suggests that personal, psychic resilience is more widespread, improvable, and teachable than previously thought. That’s because our resilience is rooted not only in our beliefs and values, in our character, experiences, values, and genes, but critically in our habits of mind—habits we can cultivate and change.”

Perhaps resilience is no more complicated than this:

• In life we have hard times. Sometimes we recover from them, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes when we recover we are as strong or even stronger than before.

• Resilience may stimulate growth. Such growth requires reflection on our experiences and perhaps actively seeking and acquiring new ways of thinking and behaving.

• If we are fortunate, we learned along the way from role models—for instance, family members or mentors—who teach us through example and provide encouragement and hope.

As you think about your own resilience or the resilience of those close to you, do you see examples of growth to new levels of strength and competency? 

In your experience, can resilience be intentionally cultivated?

Teachers are our first responders

I can no longer listen to the names and abbreviated life histories read out on radio and TV after yet another massacre of children

A New York Times article offers this straightforward explanation for mass shootings such as the one that occurred last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida:

“After Britain had a mass shooting in 1987, the country instituted strict gun control laws. So did Australia after a 1996 incident. But the United States has repeatedly faced the same calculus and determined that relatively unregulated gun ownership is worth the cost to society….

“‘In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate,’ Dan Hodges, a British journalist, wrote in a post on Twitter two years ago, referring to the 2012 attack that killed 20 young students at an elementary school in Connecticut. ‘Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.’”

I don’t know if the United States has crossed a line from which there is no return because too many politicians have calculated that the sacrifice of children’s lives is an acceptable cost to bear so that Americans can possess 300 million guns, many of which are designed to kill as many people as quickly as possible.

When elected leaders lack the political courage to place reasonable limitations on gun ownership because of their fear of the gun lobby, teachers become this nation’s first responders both during and after these tragedies.

I try to imagine what it is like to be be a teacher who knows that no community is immune from gun violence as he or she seeks to reassure students that their schools are safe places.

They cannot help but see the faces of their students and of their own children in the  images they view on television.

How, I wonder, do teachers take care of their students and themselves and each other during times like these?

Do you believe in epiphanies?


noun: a moment when you suddenly feel that you understand, or suddenly become conscious of, something that is very important to you

Do you believe in epiphanies?

I do.

I’ve had them while doing things as diverse as walking or driving, reading or staring out the window, having a conversation, or even while listening to keynote speakers at conferences.

Sometimes someone said just the right thing to me at the right time.

But epiphanies are not a change strategy that I would count on for me, for others, or for organizations.

Few epiphanies alter what we think and how we behave on a daily basis.

While guidance and inspiration can be drawn from epiphanies, they are seldom sufficient to produce meaningful and lasting changes in beliefs, understandings, and behavior.

Such changes almost always require sustained learning about complex subjects that includes deep and often courageous conversations within a strong team or other community about the implications of the new ideas and practices and how to solve the inevitable problems that arise in their implementation.

Anything less is simply insufficient.

Nothing I am saying here is new. In fact, it is decades or even centuries old.

But, inexplicably, it is far from common knowledge, yet alone common practice, except, perhaps, by resilient people.

Two questions:

What epiphanies, if any, have made a lasting difference in what you think and do?

In your experience, what structures (like teams or learning communities and dedicated time for them to meet) enable epiphanies to become standard practice?

Happy Holidays and best wishes for a wonderful 2018….

Taking personal responsibility

We teach children to take responsibility for their actions.

And we expect the same from adults.

A hallmark of resilient people is their willingness to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

But what exactly does that mean?

A person I regard as wise once told me that he found it very useful to hold himself 100% responsible for whatever happened in his life.

Not that he didn’t believe that others had a share of the responsibility, nor that “fate” hadn’t played a role, but rather that when he assumed 100% of the responsibility he did a much more thorough job of searching for the things that were within his circle of influence.

When he did that, he told me, others were far more likely to own their appropriate share of responsibility for the problem.

I have found that advice helpful over the years in countless situations.

While not all problems benefit from that way of thinking, most do, at least in my experience.

So, for today, assume 100% of the responsibility for a problem.

Within your circle of influence, what specific actions will you take to prevent, minimize, or solve a problem that would otherwise be easy to blame on others?

Can organizations survive dysfunctional leaders?

Imagine, if you can, an organization (or country) that has selected a leader who not only lacks the necessary technical knowledge and skills to do his job but also possesses one or more of the following qualities:

1. a consistent liar

li·ar: ˈlī(ə)r/noun/

a person who tells lies.

2. delusional

de·lu·sion·al: dəˈlo͞oZH(ə)nəl/adjective/

characterized by or holding idiosyncratic beliefs or impressions that are contradicted by reality or rational argument, typically as a symptom of mental disorder.

3. a tyrant

ty·rant: ˈtīrənt/noun/

a cruel and oppressive ruler

4. a plutocrat.

plu·to·crat: ˈplo͞odəˌkrat/noun/

derogatory/a person whose power derives from their wealth.

5. a bully

bul·ly1: ˈbo͝olē/noun/

a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.


use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.

Under what conditions can such an organization have hope for its future?

• If it has sturdy structures (for instance, a respected governing document, such as a Constitution; the rule of long-standing policies or law; an effective means of holding the leader to account, such as a strong and independent press; and a resilient culture with widely-shared principles and values that are continuously nurtured),

• If there are mechanisms for curtailing the power of or removing the leader from his position before irreparable harm has been done, and

• If individuals speak and act with courage and remain hopeful because the organization has survived other challenging circumstances.

What is your experience with the resilience of organizations whose leaders possess one or more of those qualities?

What are the ingredients of pre-traumatic growth?

Resilience is the strength and speed of our response to adversity, and we can build it. It isn’t about having a backbone. It’s about strengthening the muscles around our backbone.” —Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant 

In the wake of the most crushing blows, people can find greater strength and deeper meaning. I also believe that it is possible to experience pre-traumatic growth—that you don’t have to experience tragedy to build your resilience for whatever lies ahead.” —Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy

Is it possible to grow in preparation for tragedy or other forms of adversity—that is, to strengthen the muscles around our back bones prior to needing to draw on that strength?

Or, is suffering an essential prerequisite to such growth? That is, without suffering we wouldn’t have the opportunity or motivation to learn those things.

If pre-traumatic growth is possible, what are its ingredients?

Here are a few I would put on my list:

• Recognizing that life is essentially unfair and that inevitably we will experience some of that unfairness in our own lives.

• Building a community of relationships that can offer emotional support and practical assistance in times of adversity.

• Establishing healthy eating, exercise, and other health habits to sustain our bodies and minds during inevitable difficult periods.

• Reading biographies and autobiographies to broaden our perspective regarding how others have dealt with significant life challenges.

• Gaining confidence by inventorying strengths acquired and used during previous difficulties.

• Remembering that: “This, too, shall pass.”

What would you add to this list?

Create life stories that empower resilience

The realest things in our lives are the stories we invent. We live with these stories, we remind ourselves of them, we perfect them. And, happily, if you don’t like the story you’re telling yourself, you can change it. – Seth Godin

Although our life story is based on actual events, it is also highly personal and subjective. The same life could be narrated many ways…. “Creating any kind of a story is a construction. It’s not just finding something that’s out there,” says Northwestern professor Dan McAdams, a pioneer in the field of narrative psychology. “Selves create stories, which in turn create selves.” —Kira Newman

Human beings use stories to make sense of and explain the world to themselves and others.

Most powerful among those stories are the ones we tell ourselves about our childhoods and significant life experiences.

At best, the stories we tell about the past are a partial truth. (If you are convinced that your truth is “the truth,” share your memories with others at a family event to see if they agree.)

Because we are active creators of our life stories, we can shape those stories in ways that empower or disempower us.

Resilient people create life stories which are both true and that are sources of hope, positive energy, and compassion for themselves and others.

Kira Newman explains it this way:

“Not only do stories tell us who we are, but they can also become resources we draw upon in times of difficulty: Recalling stories of strength or resilience helps us confront new challenges, reminding us of how we solved problems in the past. Telling stories can connect us with others, creating intimacy and strengthening relationships. The best stories provide meaning and purpose by linking seemingly random events and experiences into a progressive journey.”

Such stories, as Kira Newman points out, remind us of our strengths, our capacity to persevere in the face of adversity, and of the connections to others that have sustained us in difficult times.

Most of all, we can create and share stories that remind us of the overarching purpose and meaning of our lives.

Resilient people understand that when their stories no longer serve them, they can create new, kinder, and more empowering narratives to improve the quality of their lives and the lives of others.

While we cannot change the past, we can describe it in ways that help create a better world.

What do you think—can we shape our stories in authentic ways to better serves ourselves and others?

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