I have a few things to say about resilience. I hear the term over and over again… fostering resilient children, teaching resilience, resilience training. A quick google search reveals a mish mash of terms that describe resilience as current interpretation has it: toughness; capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; elasticity; the ability to be happy again after something bad has happened. It seems that resilience is a term that has developed as somewhat of a metaphor; with it’s meaning derived from the ability of a substance to resume it’s previous shape or state after it has been compressed, pulled, stretched or in some other way affected. Like a spring I guess. An element of resilience is how we navigate life. How we deal with the adversities and lessons life sends our way. It is in how we process these lessons; take them on board; and continue to grow.
The response to bullying is almost always supporting resilience in the victim. I know this from personal experience. Once, I endured a very distressing workplace incident. I am actually not allowed to talk about the details so I will leave them out… (great hey: I am the victim but I’m not allowed to tell people what happened!). Whilst management and HR were generally very supportive, part of that support involved paying for “resilience training” for me. More recently, when my boy-child was experiencing bullying at school, much of the response from others surrounded the fostering of “resilience”. He needed to “toughen up”, “just ignore them”, “tell them you don’t like what they are doing and walk away”. He wasn’t allowed to move classes to get away from his perpetrators. And he was told not to retaliate as the perpetrators were known trouble makers and would likely turn the story around and accuse HIM of being the perpetrator (this advice was given with love and his protection at heart by someone who we recognise cared a lot about what was going on).
Well, I’m here to call bullshit on resilience.
Demanding resilience is condescending. It shifts the responsibility to the victim rather than the perpetrator; it implies that we should tolerate shitty behaviour in others, because if you were more resilient, this trauma you have experienced wouldn’t affect you so. Demanding resilience fosters power imbalances in our institutions, societies and relationships.
Resilience in overdrive gives the persona of toughness: a state of not being emotionally influenced by situations and events. When resilience is seen as a strength rather than merely a desirable trait, and emotional connectedness is viewed as a weakness, we are rewarded with leadership which is uncompromising. The unrelenting promotion of resilience as the gold standard, risks the promotion into leadership roles of those who are not skilled at empathy, but rather are driven solely by ambition. In my experience, ambitious leadership which is lacking in empathy does not make for a harmonious workplace. With ambitious over resilient leaders, the cycle of resilience continues and employees, students, and other members of society begin to tolerate poor situations for far too long in an attempt to be seen as possessing the apparently desirable skill of resilience.
But… Friedrich Nietzsche said“that which does not kill us, makes us stronger”?
The impact of psychological trauma on our mental and overall health is well documented. It doesn’t make us stronger, it wears us down. When we are resilient for too long, we break. We are more inclined to put up with poor situations and adverse behaviours in others, when we really should speak up: perhaps the new resilience movement is just the next way that society is normalising people pleasing? The stress and anxiety of continually putting up with bad situations breaks our bodies, makes us ill, and we crumble. When I started to recognise the same patterns happening all over again in my work place, and the response this time was that I needed to deal with it, become more resilient, I became reluctant to speak up. Then, I got sick. I crumbled. I am still trying to pick myself up, much, much later. Where is the lesson in learning to put up with people treating you badly? What is it we supposedly learn from it?
I get it. I really do. I do understand where proponents of resilience training are coming from. I’ve listened to their stories. I can empathise. I get the attraction: if we can teach people how to overcome adversity and not let it break us, how mighty we could be. And I am not saying that we should not all practice at least some resilience in our lives. But what if we are approaching this upside down? Why should healing rely on the victim becoming stronger while the perpetrator is enabled to continue on their journey of spreading harmful negativity like a cancer throughout our workplaces, schools, societies and within our relationships?
Imagine a world where instead of fostering resilience, we started to stamp out shitty behaviour?
Whilst what I’ve written here is pure and simply my OWN opinion based solely on my OWN experiences, and not scientifically proven beyond a doubt, I’m not the only one who is thinking this way. Check out what these guys have to say!