Life’s path often is full of thorns and adversities. We feel sometimes so discouraged, tired and forsaken. But there should never be a thought that the curtain has dropped forever and everything has ended. Life is such a wonderful thing, enabling us to bounce back with vigor. It is a magical attribute man has within. We call it resilience. It is acceptance of our new reality and the stuff within us. “You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that’s good, “says Elizabeth Edwards.
We have many stories of people who made a big come back despite initial setbacks. We all have heard Bill Gates was a drop out from Harvard. He failed in his first business. Stephen King’s first novel was rejected over 30 times. But none of these men ever accepted defeat in life. Perhaps the most striking example of a human fighting it out with the world against all sorts of odds is Helen Keller. We have of course the inspiring stories of Nelson Mandela, and Anne Frank. Anne survived a horrible Holocaust.
History is full of such examples. In the present times also we read about the breathtaking experiences of people and how they come back for a fight in the arena of life.
We get wounded and are full of despair at that moment. But we resurrect again. From sawdust, we take shape as a giant ready to hit back. Our wounds are soon healed and forgotten. Is this not a fantastic accomplishment which perhaps man alone is capable of?
The damages and losses that come to us make it possible to recoup strength as never before. This makes us actually better equipped to face any challenge now and in the future.
Mike Norton puts it beautifully as follows: “Never say that you can’t do something or that something seems impossible, no matter how discouraging or harrowing it may be; human beings are limited only by what we allow ourselves to be limited by: our own minds. We are each the masters of our own reality; when we become self-aware of this, absolutely anything in the world is impossible. Master yourself, and become the king of the world around you. Let no odds, exile, doubt, fear, or any mental block prevent you from accomplishing your dreams. Never be a victim of life; be its conqueror”
Diane Coutu worked as a journalist, editor, at The Wall Street Journal Europe, Harvard Business Review (HBR), and McKinsey & Company. In one of her articles, she narrates a very sad story of a journalist who could not reach to the top despite having tremendous capabilities, intelligence and talent. He had his share of personal tragedies too. She describes him as a ‘quintessential survivor’, someone who had endured in an environment often hostile to talent. Meanwhile, at home, two of his children succumbed to incurable diseases, and a third was killed in a traffic mishap. Despite all this, he toiled in the newsroom for days together, always looking forward positively to what the future held for him.
Dean Becker the resilience training expert, puts it like this: “More than education, more than experience, more than training, a person’s level of resilience will determine who succeeds and fails. That’s true in the cancer ward, it’s true in the Olympics, and it’s true in the boardroom.”
Coutu adds something to it by saying that indeed, resilience is one of the great puzzles of human nature, like creativity. She gives us many more examples of resilience. One is of the Catholic Church which continuously withstood venomous attacks, wars and schism and some ethical problems within all through these years. Another example is that of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who survived Nazis, Gulag prisons and dreaded cancer. A third example is that of Morgan Stanley who vacated floor in World Trade Centre in minutes during terrorist attacks. They came back to normal business, effectively foreseeing the dangers still lurking, equipping themselves with well-practiced drills. Here I am reminded of the famous quip of Jose Harris: “Falling down is a part of life, getting back up is living.”
In this world, we meet people who pull out their hairs and cry aloud when things go wrong. Why this is happening to me alone is the usual question they ask Gods. Living through hardship provides no lessons for them. But resilient people circumvent their suffering to create a new path and meaning for life.
In the story of Robinson Crusoe, he was lost and stranded on the Isle of Despair. He clings to his resolve by his tremendous inner strength and looks out for some practical solutions. Having lost the hope of rescue in near future, Crusoe is on the lookout for a shelter and fresh water; make fire from flint all out of sheer survival instinct. They study the island’s topography, climate, flora, and fauna, and keep their senses alive to see signs of passing ships. Perhaps the resilience story in any one’s life is not much different from this at all.
“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has already been opened for us,” says Sheryl Sandberg.
What do psychologists say?
In 1995, Gordon defined resilience as “the ability to thrive, mature, and increase competence in the face of adverse circumstances. These circumstances may include biological abnormalities or environmental obstacles. Further, the adverse circumstances may be chronic, severe and consistent. To thrive, mature, and increase competence, a person must draw upon all of his or her resources: biological, psychological, and environmental.”
Resilience, therefore, is an individual’s capacity to withstand mental turmoil and stressors and to keep at bay the dysfunctions of mind i.e. mental abnormalities, sickness, negative mood syndrome etc. Resilience is defined as a person’s capacity to avoid psychopathology when one gets knocked down. Psychological stressors or “risk factors” are often identified in people suffering from major acute or chronic stress on account of the death of kin, violence, natural calamities, sexual abuse, oppression etc.
Researches on resilient people reveal that they possess an unusual ability for acceptance of reality and a realization where they stand. They bounce back with confidence. “A deep belief, often buttressed by strongly held values, that life is meaningful; and an uncanny ability to improvise” is how Coutu defines it. This bouncing back requires some special energy and a strong mental fiber. Strong people alone know how to reckon their suffering and to do away the pain element. They sift through many negatives and create their own positives, recharging themselves automatically to bulldozer ahead! That’s why Suzy Kassem, in her book ‘Rise Up and Salute the Sun’ says: “If the fire in your heart is strong enough, it will burn away any obstacles that come your way.”
Tales of resilience from India
Indian industry has very striking examples of outstanding personalities and business tycoons who fought out their fortune during past British monarchy when the environment was not congenial and conducive for Indians to do business. The ones who succeeded in such vexing situations have had to go the extra mile to succeed. G.D Birla, Ardeshir Godrej, J.N Tata, J.R.D Tata, and Kailash Mahindra are few among the pioneers who took up that amazing and trail-blazing journey.
Still more thrilling is the resilience stories of street children in India. There are many charitable organizations, NGOs who have been taking up this task of rehabilitating them for long with wonderful results. These children are like canoes lost in the sea and you need a very sympathetic approach to bring them back to normal life. Educationists among readers will agree with me that a most significant attribute of children is their abundant resilience. Let anyone scold, harass or hurt; they might cry a bit but would soon be cheerful again, bubbling with joy! Alas, elders need only very little provocation to collapse like balloons under similar circumstances.
John Dewey, the renowned 20th century American educational philosopher, describes resilience as a sense of continuance through dynamic self-renewal. A stone when struck resists. But harder you hit it crumbles. We humans may be crushed by maladies but would resurrect from that debris, if there is a will. It is this very special aspect of life which makes us unique. Through constant renewals, life is a self-renewing experience.
What are the special attributes of resilient People? They have the ability to bounce back and recover from almost anything as stated earlier. They surely must have also a determination to make a way and create a scheme of things.
The miraculous power to survive
Many of the early theories about resilience stressed the role of genetics. Some people are just born with a resilient gene. There’s some truth there, but plenty of studies reveal this can be taught and acquired. Survivors of calamities and abandoned children learn fast to come back. Environmental factors do come into play. People, opportunities, and atmospheres all add to the resilience formula.
Perseverance, when confronted with adversities, is crucial for life. Hardships and deterrents are rub stones to test our resilience, to enable us to focus on our purpose. When we are shattered here is a magic glue for survival- to empower our survival mechanism.
As a final message let us take the words of Megan Street. “Remember an arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward; so when you feel like life is dragging you down with difficulties, it simply means that it’s going to launch you to something great. So just focus and keep aiming”.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jose Vazhuthanapilly, Bsc., LLB, DBM, CAIIB retired in 2008 as AGM from State Bank of India. He had worked as a visiting faculty in the Bank’s Staff Training Centers for 5 years. He is a writer with 20 books to his credit including books on self-help/psychology. He resides in Ernakulum, Kochi. He is active also in the social service. He can be contacted at [email protected]
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