Which Resilience?

Updated: Sep 15


Resilience is a word that is getting a lot of airtime lately.


(In fact, Susan Howlett and I are designing and facilitating a course for nonprofit leaders designed to grow our capacity for resilience in these times. More info HERE. Early Bird rate valid until Friday, Sept 18 at midnight.


It's important to examine what we mean by resilience. Because like many words, it has different meanings depending on who you are talking to.


I often speak of resilience in terms of personal health and well-being. And it's often defined as the ability to bounce back from adversity.


We can also look at the example of a riparian zone around a stream. If it were a concrete channel and there was a flood, there would be zero absorption on those concrete banks. However if there were trees along the stream that could hold excess water with heavy rains, that system would be more resilient.

Last month in Maggie Chumbley's Aug 17 session we talked about resilience and she referenced the work of Brenda Zimmerman (video below) on preventing snapback.

In the engineering world, resilience is about returning to a former state. If a bridge is flexing in a storm, you want it to return back to equilibrium.


There is another kind of resilience - ecological resilience - that is about a system learning, adapting, and reorganizing to find a new equilibrium.


Let's face it - sometimes we need engineering resilience. Even just recovering at the end of a day about recooperating. And sometimes this model of resilience is a dynamic of stuckness that keeps us from growth when we need is adaptation (ecological resilience).


In our pre-COVID days we went to an office, met people for lunch, and returned home at the end of the day. Now because of COVID, we've had to adapt, and we can think that we've just got to get through this before returning to normal, or we can see the opportunity to learn, adapt, grow and discover a new normal.


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We have been in a state of white-body supremacy (Resmaa Menakem's term) in our nation for 400 plus years, and there is an invitation to a new normal of equity. And there is a counteracting force (the hill is steep) keeping us stuck in the way things have been done.


So what's the meta invitation here? How do we step into a new world, a new normal?


I believe it's about

1) shifting mindsets in relation to change, uncertainty, and growth and

2) its about an getting used to stepping into uncertainty and not knowing. I short, being comfortable with being uncomfortable.

3) paying attention to signals of distress and cultivating our personal and communal well-being as we metabolize change.


When we enter into a new world, we don't know what's going to happen. And we often think we need to know, or we need control. But what if we don't?


What if what we really need is trust, connection, and relationship with others who are going through this time as well. What if we need is an environment that makes showing up possible, because we supported when we do, however imperfectly.


We are in this together and we need to have a felt sense of that reality.


If you are a nonprofit leader, please consider joining our course this October. It will be a highly-interactive, engaging, and structured learning environment where we will navigate this time together. Our course webpage HERE explains more and I'm glad to answer any questions you may have.


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Brenda Zimmerman video on Preventing Snap Back


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©2020 David Westerlund