The source of the following writing is from Dr. Joseph Levy at Therapeutic Recreation Department and Centre for Health and Community Networks of Douglas College in New Westminster, British Columbia.
We have been reading, listening, and experiencing either directly or indirectly the global and local impact of the recent financial crisis.
However, while trillions of dollars are being lost, moved around, hidden, and re-invested, there is also a human side to this financial crisis.
One of the national newspapers stated that a 45-year-old VP from a major US corporation lost over 75% of his lifetime investments and savings. He had to give up his membership at the local country club and sell his yacht. His condos in Mexico, the Barbados, and Switzerland were repossessed. He, his wife, and his three college-enrolled children had to move from their mansion into a more modest 4-bedroom home without “servant’s quarters.” They had to give up their 25% ownership in a private plane they used for business and pleasure. I could carry on and on about the financial setbacks experienced by this family, but the real tragedy is yet to come.
While the VP’s salary and annual bonuses were slashed, he did not lose his job; he still had a house to return at night; his family was still able to live comfortably, albeit more modestly. Millions of people around the world have lost everything as a result of this global financial crisis and are far worse off than the VP in this story.
One week after the VP and his family moved into their modest home, the 45-year-old father of three children, married for 20 years to a very supportive wife, was found dead from a self-inflicted gun shot to the head while his family was out shopping.
A suicide note left by the distraught man explained that his financial loss made him feel like a “loser” whose self-identity, self-respect and self-image had been destroyed by his poor financial investments. What can we learn from this tragedy and the decisions made by other people also faced with similar if not worse personal crises?
Obviously, there are millions of people around the globe who have not committed suicide or resorted to other drastic self-destructive behaviours. What leads one person in a crisis to commit suicide and another to persevere and move on with life? In the health business it’s called RESILIENCE. What is resilience? What are the characteristics of resilient people? Over the past 40 years, as a teacher, therapist, researcher, and health planning consultant Dr. Joseph Levy has studied the characteristics of resilient people in order to help other develop resilient values, beliefs, and skills. You can learn to be more resilient, but many people need professional help.
What is Resilience?
The way we experience human life – bad or good – is fundamentally shaped by what happens in the inner sanctum or “core beliefs” (core muscles!). When events become overwhelming, when you want to throw in the towel, when adrenalin surges and you want to destroy the opponent or yourself, when things that should go right go wrong, when life keeps handing you lemons and losers, RESILIENCE emerges.
For many people through the centuries, the capacity to find the wherewithal, determination, and reason to cope despite the odds and more often than not, to find ways to see the light at the end of the tunnel, is something that has now been clinically and scientifically validated. For these resilient people, as the song from Annie goes, “The sun will come out tomorrow!”
Here is a short list of the qualities of the attitudes of resilient people:
1. Raison d’etre (Reason for living)
Resilient people have developed over the years a “purpose for living.” As they say, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” This purpose can be to care for your family, make the world a safer place, or keep your community clean and safe. This purpose has to be of a “higher order” other than to make yourself happy. This purpose has to be “outer” directed and aimed at serving a larger good in life. Religious people who have a sense of purpose tied to a higher cause in life have the lowest suicide rates across all income, cultural, and social classes.
2. Positive and Negative Mental Attitude
Resilient people are “approach oriented.” Life, including crises and problems are seen as opportunities. When life hands you lemons, learn to make lemon smoothies. Resilient people have a very wide comfort zone for interpreting life as a problem. Less resilient people quickly find problems in life, whereas more resilient people have a way of not seeing crises as overwhelming problems.
3. Incremental Success
Resilient people don’t use a highway truck scale to weigh a baby. They recognize and build from small successes while learning from setbacks. Instant success does not give you the good foundation to build on your resilience.
4. New Goal Setting After Failure
“If at first you don’t succeed, redefine success.” Resilient people believe that, “failure teaches you how not to do things.” Resilient people accept that they cannot always change the world but that they can always change themselves and that will be the beginning of change in the world.
5. Faith – The Gaia Principle
The natural order of the world is made up of love, peace, harmony, structure, predictability, and certainty. When we affirm our personal worth through these naturally occurring phenomena, then we can confirm our universal existence. Highly resilient people have always felt a sense of connection to the world. Their self-worth, self-identity, and meaning in life can never be taken from them since they are connected to the higher powers in the universe. The same powers that make the sun rise and set and also give us birth, death, and the seasons.
As long as you can feel connected to Mother Earth and all the other mysteries of life, you will never feel disconnected and lonely, no matter how much money you have lost on the stock market or in real estate.
Dr. Victor E. Frankl, the concentration camp survivor who wrote the book Man’s Search for Meaning, stated his resilient philosophy that kept him alive. The criminals running the camps could physically torture him, but they could never take away his human dignity, self-respect, and hope for the future. Frankl poignantly wrote, “We who lived in concentration camps can remember that men and women who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken away from a man or a woman, but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way… Fundamentally, therefore, any man, even under such circumstances, decides what shall become of him – mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp.”
It is never too early or too late to become a more resilient person. I witness that the older people get, the more they rely on their resilience to get them through the crises of life. And at the end of each crisis, they move to a higher plateau of coping, resilience, and mental health. We all need to see a crisis as an “opportunity” to make ourselves better and to improve the world.