Tag Archives: resilience

Contemplating Resilience

It looks increasingly like ‘resilience’ is going to be a key word for me in all sorts of ways. I think it’s an essential part of making change, and I think it’s something best handled at a community level, not a personal level.

How do I approach things that are fragile and help them become more robust and survivable? It’s something to consider with regards to the people around me. It’s a question for social groupings, for businesses I am involved with, for volunteer outfits I’m working with, and for the place I live. It’s a wider question for us as a species and I expect that exploring resilience on the small scale will lead me to a lot of thoughts about the larger scale, too.

It’s not the first time in my life I’ve moved towards a concept that will define how I go forward. It may be the most conscious I’ve been in doing that. Without resilience, everything else becomes harder and less likely. If I can help develop coping mechanisms, support systems, more dependable and enduring structures, I can keep good things keep going. I can help good people keep going.

How do we fairly share resources? How do we support each other, practically and emotionally? What are we willing and able to pay for? What can we do if financial support isn’t an option? How can we think and act more collectively for the common good rather than feeling isolated and powerless? These are questions that open the way to more resilient ways of being. Asking what we can do for each other that makes things better is the heart of how we achieve greater resilience.

What can I do? In some of the specific situations I’m looking at, there are practical things that need to change to achieve greater resilience. Too much knowledge and responsibility shouldered by too few people. In some of the situations, the key is cash flow, and getting money moving in better ways will increase the amount of resources available and put a number of people I care about on a better footing. I need to work differently so that others will be better paid, and I’m fine with that. Selfishness is very much at odds with resilience, it isolates us and encourages us to compete rather than co-operating, which in turn makes us all more vulnerable.

What can I do to help the people around me be more emotionally resilient? This is a tricky one. It brings up questions of how much care and energy is invested in whom, and who I am willing to feel responsible for. Factoring my own resilience into the mix, I just can’t afford to invest too much of my energy in people who take a lot and put very little back in. When I look at how best to deploy myself as a resource, the most immediate answer is that I can’t really afford the people who see me only as a resource to deploy, because that undermines my own resilience. Depression and anxiety make me less effective. Exhaustion increases my risks of depression and anxiety. I need to learn how to attach my own oxygen mask first.

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What do you do?

It’s almost the first question to be asked on occasions of meeting strangers. In most instances it’s a question about your job, your career. Amongst creative folk it’s about your art, recognising that there may be a bill paying job that has very little to do with who you are. The work we do defines us economically and socially, all too often. It becomes who we are. Yet how many of us really identify with our jobs? How many of us work predominantly on callings and vocations? Is what you do to afford food much measure of who you are as a person?

I have a lot of jobs. At the moment, in no particular order I am press officer, author, PR elf, provider of website content and editor. These are all regular paying gigs to at least some degree. I am sometimes public speaker, teacher, celebrant and musician. I have all the non-paid work that comes from being a mother, and the wife of an artist. There’s intermittent voluntary work. My adult life has always been this kind of happy muddle. Who am I? Well, there’s not much point looking to my job title for an easy answer!

I wonder about the impact of specialising. I wonder about how it informs who we think we are, and how we see each other. Pay me a couple of hundred pounds an hour for my time, and I am not the same struggling creator who could barely make a pound an hour, am I? And yet…  Those who are highest paid are often furthest removed from doing the work that the rest of us really need to have done. Too many jobs don’t give much sense of satisfaction or completion, many are incredibly dull while seeming to serve little purpose. As a culture we are apparently more concerned that all the cans in the stores should be neatly facing forward than we are about the not so neat littler outside the stores.

If work is your identity, then power over your sense of self is given to whoever pays you. If you only have one job, then the power this puts in other hands is vast. The job pays for your life, it defines you, and yet someone else could take it away, deeming you unnecessary or not good enough. This makes aging and sickness much more alarming than they need to be, because these things can rob you of your work identity.

Of course this fits very well with capitalism, and a life that is to be all about money and exchange. What you earn is who you are.

We would as a society have more practical resilience if people tended to have multiple jobs. A wider skills base gives more options. Not having all your eggs in one job basket makes a person less vulnerable to changes they have no control over. It’s more interesting. You aren’t locked in to such a narrow social engagement if you have multiple jobs, and better networking and more contact also gives communities more resilience. It’s easier to walk away from a job if you don’t totally depend on it – which would tend to push working conditions up.

What do you do? Imagine a world in which you have some control over that, and where your pay packet does not define your social identity. Perhaps ‘hard work’ isn’t the most important thing in life, and perhaps if we did not feel so defined by our jobs, we’d have more room to question their usefulness. Imagine if living well was the most important thing, and on meeting people they were most likely to ask ‘What are you interested in?’


The march of progress (and where is takes us)

The mainstream west understands progress in terms of technological advancement and increased material wealth. It is held as a self evident truth that these two things are good, and desirable. They go with economic growth and increased GDP and are understood to be how we overcome poverty and improve quality of life for everyone. This is why it’s very hard to even start a conversation about alternatives – we have a culture that believes in material growth and consumption as its primary means of salvation in this lifetime, and its grand hope for improving the future for generations yet to come.

Thus is causes horror and alarm when The Green Party talks about zero growth economy, shrinking the economy, reducing material wealth. There’s a knee jerk, fear based reaction to all of this, because if material progress is good, not seeking material progress must be bad.

So what are we getting, for our great march of progress? What have we marched to, and where does the road lead? Yes, most of us now have more material wealth and comfort than the average mediaeval noble.  We have increased life expectancy. We also have an obesity epidemic, social fragmentation, isolation, lack of resilience, loss of skills, increasing inequality between the richest and poorest and a crisis in mental health. There is no clear correlation between improved material comforts and improved quality of life. I would argue that the high stress, over stimulated, depression and anxiety inducing modern lifestyle is no kind of progress at all. As air pollution takes an increasing toll on life, those life expectancy gains are dwindling for many, too.

The march of progress pollutes our drinking water, the air we breathe and the soil that feeds us. It depletes habitat for all living things, and takes beauty out of the world. The mental health of humans is directly affected by contact with nature. So the more forests we cut down, the more open spaces we cover in tarmac, the more harm we do ourselves. It’s a funny sort of progress, when you stop and think about it.

And what do we do, with the amazing technological progress we’ve made? We sit in traffic queues and we watch television programs in which other people pretend to do exciting things. We do less that is real, less that has inherent meaning, less that gives us chance to be heroes, or saints, or whatever your calling may be. We spend more time investing in imaginary people doing pretend things. Are we living fuller, richer, more rewarding lives as a consequence of all our progress, or are we struggling to pay the bills and spending most of our free time on escapism?

Where are we marching to?

Because we do have a choice, and we do not have to accept the assumption that all new technology and all material posessions are unquestionably good. We need to be more discriminating, more selective, more willing to question the benefits and costs. Forever marching forward on the grounds that forward is good is a very weak strategy, especially if there’s no attention paid to what you march towards. With climate change, habitat destruction and species extinction on the rise, as we destroy the very resources we depend on, the march of progress seems intent on marching itself right over a cliff.