Resilience is a tricky term. The trait often draws high praise, and rightly so. Resilience can nudge individuals to persevere and thrive in the face of great adversity. However, far too often I’ve seen resilience used as a tool to perpetuate the inherently challenging and, sometimes oppressive, systems. When resilience is continually required, it can create a society that normalizes and even encourages overwork, burnout, and mental health issues.
I grapple with this word quite a bit. On one hand, I’m a firm believer in the power of resilience. Over the course of my life I’ve seen that power play out like a broken record. Without question, the adversities I’ve faced have taught me valuable lessons. These challenging times forced me to strengthen those resilient muscles that may have otherwise atrophied.
Resilience as a Tool
I’ve served in schools where talks of resilience were used as tools to inspire hope. Posters and weekly themes on things such as resilience, grit, and the likes litter hallways and classrooms. School-wide assemblies are held to address this trait of resilience, highlighting its power to help students overcome obstacles.
In every space I’ve been in, I truly feel as though these efforts have been well intentioned. And I do believe there is a space for students to understand how to flex their resilient muscles. But, far too often, it doesn’t get to the root of why students (or communities) have to be so damn resilient.
And, in schools, we take a deep look into the root causes of these very real concerns that crop up. They didn’t just arrive out of nowhere. There’s a deeply embedded root to uncover through a process of analysis and discovery. Sometimes it’s glaring. Other times it’s not. But all the time, it’s there. Staring back at you like “I was wondering when you’d find me?” But school is just a microcosm of our societal infatuation with resilience.
The harsh reality is this is – there are many systems in our society that perpetuate inequality, discrimination, and harm. From economic systems that prioritize profit over people, to social systems that dismiss certain groups of people, to environmental systems that prioritize exploitation over preservation. Far too often, people are forced to be incredibly resilient just to survive these systems, much less, thrive.
Telling someone to “be resilient” is not a compassionate solution to the roots of these concerns. It can definitely serve as a tool or a strategy to help us get there. But we cannot simply pass it off to individual strength and perseverance to overcome systemic challenges. Largely, it wasn’t individual acts that brought us to this point, it was systems. And we must take a strategic approach to help achieve just, equitable, and sustainable systems for each other.
I know it sounds daunting. It will require hard work, collaboration, and a commitment to confronting difficult truths. And coming together isn’t necessarily something we’ve shown to be very good at, lately. But it’s a moral imperative. It will also require a willingness for each of us to acknowledge the ways in which we may have contributed to these systems, either directly or indirectly. As much as we may think that our own hands are clean, we all got a mess to address.
Call me crazy, but I believe we can do this and end our hyper-reliance on resilience. To achieve these goals, we must recognize the interconnectedness of the challenges we face. And then we must get to work. So how do we go about making this shift? I’m glad you asked…
Root Cause Analysis
One sure-fire way of addressing the negative implications of over reliance on resilience is to challenge the systemic inequalities that cause it. We must be firm, vocal advocates for policies that promote things such as affordable housing, access to healthcare, and equal opportunities in education and the workplace. Yes, in 2023 glaring inequalities still exist in all of these spaces – across race, gender, and socioeconomic status. While some have been more negatively impacted through systemic discrimination, in the end, what affects one, affects all – this is a team game.
We are in this together. By addressing the root causes of the problem, we can help to reduce the need for resilience and make society more just and equitable.
It’s also important for us to embrace and uplift the critical need for mental health awareness and resources. Depression, anxiety, and PTSD are often triggered or worsened by the need to constantly show resilience in the face of adversity. We need to ensure folks have access to mental health resources, counseling, and therapy, so they have the support they need to overcome the mental and emotional challenges that can often accompany systemic impediments.
We must create safe environments and support systems where people can be vulnerable to share their struggles. This can come in many forms, such as community groups, mentorship programs, and professional organizations that provide resources and support. When people have access to these resources and feel supported, they are better equipped to cope with the challenges they face and develop the resilience they need to overcome them.
Without a doubt, resilience is an essential and powerful quality to have, but it is not a substitute for systemic change. I encourage us all to think about the systems that shape our lives and the lives of those around us. Look for opportunities to work together to create systems that don’t require an overreliance on resilience. Let’s commit to digging into these roots and creating a world where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.