Resilience in nature
Recently, I stepped into the backyard and noticed a raspberry seedling had grown through the drainage hole of an overturned pot. Occasionally, some plants manage to sprout outside the bed–seen in the background. This one had bad luck. It escaped alright, but into an enclosed container. No worries. This plant did more than escape. It did what most plants do when faced with inhospitable conditions.
Resilience according to Merriam Webster has two definitions. The latter one being, “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” For the sake of this post, this definition will be used as it best fits how humans describe overcoming hardship.
We only need the basics
Similar to the unlucky rogue raspberry shoot, we too had no idea how quickly we would find ourselves trapped in our homes and apartments, alone and isolated. However, like the seedling, COVID-19 showed us that life continues to exist even when reduced to the basics. Nature constantly reminds us of what is needed to live. In spite of darkness and isolation, the plant had enough nourishment to continue on with its purpose. This is precisely what the world should be positively taking away from the pandemic. Namely, like plants, we truly do not need as much as we think to live a fulfilling life. Besides having sufficient food, light, and water, the plant showed three key elements of resilience in overcoming hardship and challenges.
Resilience is accepting the situation for what it is
Aside from humans, no plant or animal takes umbrage to misfortune. When did complaining ever change an undesirable situation? In the book, “Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why”, Lawrence Gonzalez writes about the differences between someone dying or surviving in life or death situations. Along with Viktor Frankl’s, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, both authors discuss the importance of purpose. Both also learned of another survivor trait. Well before Gonzalez and Frankl, the Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, born almost 2,000 years prior even observed:
“For good or for ill, life and nature are governed by laws that we can’t change. The quicker we accept this, the more tranquil we can be.”
Once the survivors accepted they could succumb in the next hours, an overwhelming feeling of relief came over them. Accepting their mortality released them from their own torment of death. Now, with a clear conscience, they were able to refocus their energy on making sure this outcome did not become their fate. And in most cases, they literally did it one step at a time.
Resilience requires going deep within to find purpose
Darkness can surround us in difficult times. Support systems may not be easily accessible. Like with the coronavirus, reaching outward in times of need can be hampered by government measures and/or personal limitations. When such conditions exist to whom and where do you turn? You go within. Raspberry roots grow deep underground, seeking water and nutrients to sustain life. The basis of resilience lies also deep within humans too. What is deep within us? Purpose. The will to live. Resilience requires a “why.” What makes you want to dig down deep within yourself in times of hardship? Why should you persist when faced with insurmountable obstacles and overwhelming feelings of adversity? Purpose makes you want to endure. And that you find within you.
Resilience requires looking above to set a goal
Normally, the flower pot is a container that sustains and supports plant development. When inverted, however, it does the opposite. The little amount of sunshine entering through the tiny drainage hole not only provided enough nourishment, but it also provided a goal to reach. For plants the why is clear; it is the “how” that sometimes poses the challenge. In this case, the seedling overcame the hurdle. The hole whose sole purpose is normally to drain excess water now became the goal to reach. Talk about a paradigm shift! We go deep within to find our “why.” Purpose alone, however, is not enough. Purpose requires a goal to show the achievement of the mission. Otherwise, it only remains an unfulfilled dream.
Resilience is short-term survival in order to live again
Until the plant breached the confinement of the overturned pot it was surviving. Once it cleared the hole and grew new leaves outside it went back to living. Humans too can be resilient and survive in the short-term. However, the long-term goal is to live. Remaining in survival mode for too long can be hazardous. Gonzalez wrote a follow-up book, Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience. Survivors survive with the hope of living again. Unfortunately for some, the trauma that may result from the ordeal of surviving makes it difficult for some to continue on living. They remain in survival mode with deleterious results.
A vaccine is needed but insufficient
Too many humans were surviving and showing resiliency prior to the outbreak. I would like to have history portray the COVID-19 pandemic as having saved more lives than it had taken by having us–like the raspberry plant–see the light. In our case, this means seeing the bigger picture for humanity. We cannot change COVID-19. We can, however, rethink our attitude, alter our behaviors, revise our policies, and update our structures. Like the raspberry plant, we will break through the hole and come out. Humankind must benefit from the multitude of awe-inspiring acts of human resiliency now on display worldwide. Let us not allow this global resiliency to be in vain. Worse than the current impact of the pandemic would be to squander this opportunity to achieve an equitable standard of living for all. This is fully in our control. Now is our chance to strive for that ray of light!
About the author
Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Human Systems Facilitator, Coach, Youth Expert, and Speaker. He accompanies organizations in fully integrating their human resource potential. He does so by facilitating group processes that foster authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom. Jean-Pierre is the creator of the EPIC Model of development and authored What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.