A report from the Slow Lane
There has been a lot of talk this week about psychological resilience, talk that usually features individual characteristics that are said to account for someone being more resilient. I’m not going address current events but I do want to focus upon a different expression of resilience that is equally important to consider.
Those readers who may know about the Transitions movement know that Transitions focuses upon “community resilience,” and believes a collective capacity for weathering a storm prepares people better for enduring the dramatic changes that are coming. I concur, but I think entirely too much attention has been focused upon the external threats (such as the end of oil, energy depletion, or food production) and not enough attention has been given to internal dimensions of community resilience. Here is what I mean.
Community, the bonds that actually bind people to one another, are more complex than is often assumed. This causes a lot of heartache, confusion and ineffectiveness. There are associations, often called community, which differ from person to person. Some people limit their definition of community to only those with shared geography, social practices and beliefs. Others, experience community feelings, for them community can be very diverse, and may include people of differing outlooks. Still others, fewer to be sure, might live as though community connection is just a part of life. Each of these is a viable way to experience community. Thus, community resilience is a varied thing that is as hard as community to define.
The difficulty posed by the complexity of community, and the fact that people tend to prefer the community they are capable of, doesn’t have to thwart the desire for real social resilience, but it often does. Groups fall apart, get polarized, or become otherwise dysfunctional because there are so many assumptions about what community is, or should be. Resilience suffers, and people are often driven deeper into distrust, or a more dangerous self-reliance — brittleness, actually.
The search for community resilience relies on a sense of community for a part of its nature, but is in large part a product of the inner lives of those who experience themselves linked. There is subtlety here, nuances that are not part of conventional experience. Community resilience is both, an inside and outside phenomenon.
This missive is about the inside dimension of community resilience. This part is, to me, the most important, because community resilience hinges upon the bonds that exist amongst folks. Caring is what makes community resilience more than a pleasant abstraction. When people feel a vital sense of being connected then they begin to feel held. This only happens when folks feel known. Resilience, as a social phenomenon, is built upon reliance. This is not a reliance that somebody cares about something, it is a personal reliance built upon the recognition that several people one knows by name and story care about one, and want to make a difference in one’s life. Caring, in this case is personal, not ideological.
Caring is not an easy feeling to produce. It is amazingly transparent. People tend to know if they are really cared about. No amount of good-will replaces caring. There is no substitute for the feeling of being held as valuable. This is not something that can be manufactured at a workshop or a neighborhood event, it is grown through meaningful interactions. Growing the feeling of caring takes time. Time conveys importance, which in turn, communicates value. Caring grows, because life-energy is invested, and it is the only meaningful bond that will hold in a real storm.
Social resilience accompanies community, because that is where the bonds are. Interestingly, there are different qualities to these bonds. The ones that hold the best and longest are not often the ones that feel the best. Hardships, pain and loss provide a kind of depth that takes caring to the level where it really means something.
If one really wants to cultivate community resilience then pay attention to the suffering going on around one. It doesn’t have to come in a specialized form, such as an ideological companion, or a family member. The shared difficulty that accompanies being human is enough. Caring is the balm we all need, and strangely, it is the thing that joins us into the human family. Community resilience is proportional to the quality of caring a community holds.