When did we decide that resilience was a solo project?
It’s not that we consciously defined it that way. It’s just what we were taught, from the time we were little until, well, today. The same thing was – and is – said in so many ways: “Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps”; “You’re stronger than you think.”; “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”; “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” The cultural message is clear: resilience depends on you – your individual toughness and inner strength. It’s a solo act.
And it’s not just our culture, but our UU faith too. We also prop up this heroic and individualistic form of resilience. We UUs famously rejected the idea that human beings are depraved, sinful and weak and replaced it with the view that people are inherently worthy and strong. As one leading UU voice put it, “Our moral fiber is equal to all demands!” It’s the ultimate “You can do it!” theology.
Yet at our best, we don’t stop there. We say two things at the same time: “You can do it.” and ”You don’t have to do it on your own!” Remember those folk sayings that hold up the image of a tree being able to bend with the wind? Remember how they end with a message about resilience resting in our ability to flexibly lean and bend? Well, for us UUs, another kind of leaning is just as important: the practice of leaning on those next to us!
Yes, bend with the wind we say, but also remember that no one makes it through the windstorms alone.
It’s all a reminder that while resilience has a lot to do with what is inside us, it equally depends on what is between us. This is where our Soul Matters framing is so important: we are indeed a people of resilience. Forget solo act; think community choir! We survive our pain by having the strength to tell others about it. We find the courage to make our way through the dark only when we sense we are not alone. Internal and individual grit only gets us so far; empathy, assurance and love from others gets us the rest of the way. Resilience has everything to do with the water within which we swim and the web of connections that surround us. Resilient people arise from resilient relationships!
So friends, during the months of January and February, let’s look around as much as look within. Let’s let up on all the “grin and bear it” talk and instead grab the hand that is reaching our way. Let’s help each other remember that resilience.