I first read about resilience in my physics classes as the ability of a material to absorb energy and release back that energy as it springs back to its original shape. Later, as I studied engineering and then joined my professional life, I added a third element to this capability of materials – which was to spring back, without creating a permanent distortion.
As I grew older, and faced adversities in my life, and saw many close to me face their own adversities, I realised the real meaning of the term ‘resilience’ – the ability to recover from misfortune or to adjust to change. This was all about humans and their strength to face adversities and bounce back with renewed vigour.
I remember a very senior colleague of mine almost 35 years back. I was only 26 years old to his 56 – he was my boss. He had a happy disposition. The gentleman had a son – an only child, who must have been my age. The son went to Sundarbans with his friends on vacation, met with an accident on the boat, and tragically died. I went with my wife to condole and realised that words were superfluous – what do you tell an old couple, who had just lost their only child? I had tears in my eyes, and I found the gentleman consoling me instead, reciting passages from the scriptures. Adversity had altered him, but he came back, seeking solace in the scriptures and deriving strength from them, to lead as normal a life as he could.
I approached my friends on the social media seeking their experiences in dealing with personal adversities. Another of my colleagues, Priya (name changed), wrote back to me about the loss of her 41-year-old son, Varun (name changed), a few months back. She wanted to write about it, had even tried multiple times, but could not bring herself to articulate her feelings. I encouraged her to write and she sent me her innermost thoughts.
Priya wrote that a woman goes through severest of physical pains and mental suffering through labour pain at the time of her child’s birth – this is the natural cycle of life. But what is unnatural is when this cycle of life breaks due to the untimely death of the younger person, whom the woman had given birth to, nurtured to become a good and strong human being, to face the world. Priya went on to add that even the thought of such a situation sends a chill down any parent’s spine. Priya has chosen to live through Varun’s memories. She also expresses her feelings writing poetry or short stories. This is her way of coming out of her traumatic experience and living life.
The two incidents narrated above are extreme forms of adversities that an individual can face. All of us have faced and will continue to face adversities of one form or the other and many of us will find our own inner strengths to deal with them. There are a few, who unfortunately are not able to cope with difficult times and sometimes take extreme steps. There also are a few people who may require additional medical help to deal with feelings of depression – these are medical conditions and need to be taken care of through medicines.
If we look at the above two incidents and our own life experiences, we find that what has kept us going is ‘this too shall pass, tomorrow is another day.’ This has also meant that we have been able to draw upon an inner strength to overcome the adversity and that others around us have supported us with all their heart. In the two events I have written about, the inner strength came from religion or memories. What then could be the skills required to be resilient?
- Resilient persons believe that they are masters of their destiny. Circumstances may change, it is they who control their lives.
- Resilient persons are aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and thus, work to their strengths.
- Resilient persons adapt to situations – they are willing to back-off if circumstances so demand; and make course corrections.
- Resilient persons do not try to influence factors over which they do not have control, they find alternate solutions.
- Resilient persons are optimists – ‘tomorrow is another day’. They learn from their failures and move on.
- Resilient persons create a supporting social environment around them and do not hesitate to take help.
I close the article, with a prayer that all of us find the courage to be resilient, and with a quote from Emil Dorian, a Romanian poet, prose writer, and physician, “Strong people alone know how to organize their suffering so as to bear only the most necessary pain.”