Every so often in life we meet a person who shakes up our sense of self, and reminds us of our values and purpose. Every so often we meet a person who embodies resilience, one of the great puzzles of human nature!
This past week I met such a person. Her name was Zanty, a beautiful serene African woman whose smile radiated across the room. Focusing her attention on the little children she was minding in her work role, there was no hint of the trauma she had so recently experienced when her house burnt down, taking with it every worldly possession she owned. How did she manage to appear calm and accepting, so at peace with her new life situation?
This is a question that has fascinated me ever since I first learned of holocaust survivors in primary school. Why do some people buckle under the stress and pressure when life hijacks them, and others flexibly bend with the changes and ultimately bounce back? What is it than enables them to look at their life through a filtering lens, absorbing their new reality and yet still able to have the uncanny ability to improvise and make do with whatever’s at hand – all the while believing that things will get better and a positive future lies ahead.
Zanty inspired me because she embodied resilience. In her, I witnessed all of the defining characteristics often shining through when resilience is on display:
- Calm acceptance of the harsh realities facing her – an emotionally gruelling and exhausting experience
- Making meaning in terrible times – because she was deeply in tune with her values and sense of purpose in life. Put simply, she was able to ‘get’ what’s important and feel thankful for the good things she still had (such as her health, her family love and the support of the community who rallied to her aid)
- The extraordinary ability to improvise, make do with limited resources still at hand – and find another plan in the interim
- To accept offers of support with humility and grace because of the ancient African tradition of ‘Ubuntu’ – I am because we are. What I have brought to my community will be repaid in droves – we are all here to support each other
- Absolute mindful acceptance of the situation – no what if’s or if only’s
- A vision of a brighter future, and that one step at a time, one smile at a time, anything is possible
Why is resilience such a hot topic these days? Many of the early theories about resilience stressed the role of genetics, but more recently evidence shows that it can be learned.We live in a world where people are losing jobs and certainty of employment as industries adjust to the new world of automation. Climate change is wreaking havoc in many communities around the globe with increasing occurrence of cyclones/droughts and floods. People are losing their homes and their livelihoods. The displacement of millions of people fleeing religious tyranny across the world. Yet others are snapping back – bending with the changes and finding opportunity in adversity. They have what I’m going to call from now on, the ‘Zanty Quality’!I’d like to leave you with a few questions to ponder this coming week:-
- When in my life was I last called upon to be resilient?
- Which of the above characteristics was I able to display?
- What skills would I like to develop further for myself in building my own resilience?
- How do I want to be remembered? What would I like my family, friends and work colleagues to be saying about me when I am no longer here?
- How can I bring my own resilience to support someone in my life who is having a struggle at the moment?Thank you Zanty for enlightening me this week. I feel very grateful,Cheers Alison