Resilience is the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change. We are all born with innate resiliency, with the capacity to develop: social competence (responsiveness, cultural flexibility, empathy, caring, communication skills, and a sense of humor); problem-solving (planning, help-seeking, critical and creative thinking); autonomy (sense of identity, self-efficacy, self-awareness, task-mastery, and adaptive distancing from negative messages and conditions); and a sense of purpose and belief in a bright future (goal direction, educational aspirations, optimism, faith, and spiritual connectedness). Resilience is our inborn capacity for self-righting and for transformation and change.
The degree to which a person is resilient can be influenced and determined by protective factors. Social support, sense of belonging and self-efficacy are factors that are protective against risk. One of the most impactful external influences on resilience in children is having a relationship with a trusted, beloved adult. The attentive, caring and wise voice of a supportive adult gets internalized and becomes part of the child’s own voice. The resiliency literature shows that, outside the family circle, teachers were the most frequently cited positive role models named by children. Young people reported that the teachers made them feel as if they mattered. They demonstrated a belief in the child’s capacity for success, showed genuine interest in the child’s activities and pursuits, listened attentively to the child’s feelings, hopes and dreams, let them know they were missed when they were absent, and found ways to include the child in classroom and after school activities. If a child is banished from the group (suspended or expelled), the opportunity for connection is greatly diminished. Young people at greatest risk for dropping out of school have never been friends with any teacher. The truth is, the young men who have been responsible for so much of the carnage in our nation are loners, isolated, alienated with no sense of belonging or empathy.
The major implication from resiliency research for practice is that if we hope to create socially competent people who have a sense of their own identity and efficacy, who are able to make decisions, set goals, and believe in their future, then meeting their basic human needs for caring, connectedness, respect, challenge, power, and meaning must be the primary focus of any youth development effort. Resilience is a process of connectedness, of linking to people, to interests, and ultimately to life itself. Resiliency research shows the blueprint for building this sense of home and place in the cosmos lies in relationships.
If resilience is all about connection, deeper connection with our self, each other and with nature can build resilience capacities. I continually talk about relationships and interconnection throughout this blog site. Deeper connection with nature can be a source of nourishment, well-being, inspiration, empowerment and wisdom. Nature experience can help us live life fully by regaining the power and nourishment that comes from remembering who we are and what we are part of. In ancient wisdom traditions, boys went through a rite of passage to become men. They tested themselves in wild spaces and were then welcomed by the community as an empowered warrior. Let’s offer our kids nature experiences that allow them to test themselves and develop resilience capacities such as social competence; coping and problem solving skills; autonomy and empowerment; and a sense of purpose and belonging. And then welcome them in our communities as responsible citizens with a duty to consider community well-being.
We face immense challenges- social, ecological and political. We can be overwhelmed, disempowered and disheartened by the scale and extent of these problems. Building a critical mass of future citizens who will rescind the mean-spirited, greed-based, control-driven social policies we now have and recreate a social covenant grounded in social, economic and ecological justice begins with our kids. Committed adults can make things better, safer for our kids and our nation. We can build hope, resilience and belonging. Maybe if we stopped our war of words for a bit and spoke from our hearts instead of our political ideology, we could find common ground for solution-oriented discourse. Our young people are demanding that we make their world a safer, better place.