What is Resilience and What is its Role in Making the US Stronger?

springs trimThe International Resilience Project uses this definition for Resilience:

“[Resilience] is a universal capacity which allows a person, group or community to prevent, minimize or overcome the damaging effects of adversity”

Everyone needs resilience.  We all face adversity.  But poverty can force people to deal with a broad range of adverse situations at an unrelenting pace.  A poor child’s daily dose of adversity can include facing a dangerous neighborhood going to school, ostracism from wealthier children at school, learning deficits, stressed parents at home, physical and mental fatigue from poor nutrition and more.

Definitely Not Doomed

Many people write off these children.  They cannot imagine that there is any amount of money, knowledge and time that can eliminate all those challenges.

In fact,efforts to reduce the adversities are necessary but not sufficient.

Many poor people manage to raise happy, responsible children.  Some combination of the actions and traits of these parents and children trumps all the negative circumstances:  They snatch victory from the jaws of low-income defeat.

Resilience is Not Soft

Talking about investing in resilience could sound like “happy talk”, focusing on icing for a non-existent cake.  At worst, it could be viewed as blaming the victims — implying that if people just change their attitudes, they can beat poverty.  Neither is true.  Focusing on resilience is about harnessing powerful dynamics that can make big tangible impacts on families, communities and society.

“Wellness” and prevention are now well-accepted as essential complements to treating disease in medicine.  Similarly, resilience-focused investments are a logical complement to problem-focused anti-poverty programs.

Like good soil when planting, building resilience in a population makes all potential futures better:

  • If nothing changed for the better economically for poor families, they would still be more active, successful and happy citizens
  • If more jobs emerged or solutions to some of their other problems appeared, they would be more likely to seize and reap the benefit of those opportunities

Magnum_Booster_RocketcropThe Booster Rocket of Anti-Poverty Programs

We live in a society that celebrates and invests tirelessly in innovation for the boost that it gives to businesses.  There is a whole industry now around how to increase profits through higher employee engagement.  The ability to change systems and outcomes through new ways of thinking and involving people’s minds and spirits is well established.  It is time to apply what is already known about the transformative power of resilience with that same level of enthusiasm.


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