What is Resilience?
The short definition of resilience is: Adversity + Doing well = Resilience.
A person or system is doing well, they face a traumatic event, and then in the future they are doing well again. This ability to recoil and bounce back after adversity is “resilience.”
The word ‘resilience’ derives from the Latin root word, resilire, and means to “rebound, bounce, or recoil from…”
Two solid definitions of resilience provided by leading scholars and researchers who have been studying resilience for many years are:
The capacity of a dynamic system to adapt successfully to disturbances that threaten system function, viability, or development. Dr. Ann S. Masten
In the presence of significant adversity, resilience is the capacity of individuals to navigate their way to the psychological, social, cultural, and physical resources that sustain their well-being, and their capacity to individually and collectively negotiate for these resources to be provided in culturally meaningful ways. Dr. Michael Unger
In the first definition by Dr. Masten, she references “systems” as opposed to individual people. This is important because humans are systems that live and work within other systems. School environments, work organizations, and other social communities are all systems and the human system is impacted by each. Systems influence and affect other systems.
In the United States, we are steeped in John Wayne folklore. We tend to attribute resilience to individual characteristics, but this individualistic view misses the mark by not considering that resilience if more often attributable to solid support of other systems that an individual is embedded within and has access to.
For example, a child who is facing adversity at home, may well demonstrate resilience due to the solid support of their school, social, and faith communities; rather than personal strength.
In the second definition, Dr. Unger picks up on this train of thought by defining resilience as the capacity of an individual to navigate and negotiate for the help they need. Meaning to say, they know how to access the support systems that are available; and they do so.
Resilience is important because in living our lives we will all experience adversity at some point in time. There is no escape from suffering in life, as it’s part of the human experience. However, once we begin to understand the concepts of resilience, we can take action steps now to ensure that we do well in life when faced with adversity.