Pearls of Resilience

Egyptian pottery, 3500-3200 BCE

Resilience conveys staying-power in the ability to withstand stressors. What supports resilience? A social support system undergirds resilience. What supportive network kept a piece of pottery intact for 5000+ years? Resilience also has links to having a meaning or purpose. The purpose of pottery sealed into inner protective chambers of Egyptian tombs was to help the deceased transport necessities for an afterlife.

If humans can preserve fragile artifacts for safe-keeping, why not treasure human life itself?

What purposes underlie the excruciating stressors of war?

Evolutionary psychologists Martin Daly and Margo Wilson of McMaster University in Ontario, Canada studied 60 different cultures around the world. While 95% of these groupings of people had some form of blood revenge, 93% of them also included forgiveness or reconciliation. The researchers did not believe that killing was so much an evolutionary edict as it was meant to fulfill some goal. Afterlife was not a consideration, but higher social status placed high on the goal list.

It turns out that humans are not alone in seeking higher status. Chimpanzees have been followed closely since their behavior was highlighted at the Jane Goodall research center in Gombe, Tanzania. Chimps sometimes engage in gang violence and kill their neighbors. Chimpanzee wars result in the winning side gaining members from a losing tribe. Through domination of another community of chimps, the aggressors also expand their territorial range and possible food supply chains. Does this  sound familiar?

The noun resilience comes from Latin resiliens, meaning “to rebound, to recoil.” I picture a slinky when I think of recoiling after being stretched to the max. Slinky resilience occurs over and over, each time reshaping a semblance of “holding together.” Ukrainian mothers are “holding together” as they stand in long lines to get on trains, get off trains, obtain food, find shelter, and most importantly, tend to their precious children. Many women are forced to leave their homeland without partners. Courageous Ukrainian parents and grandparents are today’s pearls of resilience. They deal with the unfolding tragedy in Ukraine with passion and persistence.

One thing we must not hold onto is hatred. The resilient words of Volodymyr Zelensky are for everyone: “Don’t let rage destroy us from the inside.”

Look carefully at the spiraling circles holding onto Egyptian pottery. It is curious to find in another part of the planet that similar swirls were carved into stone at the Newgrange Stone Age passage tomb in Ireland around 3200 BCE (blog post, Pearls and Swirls, 1-10-22). I wrote then about an “interdependent wholeness.” I did not imagine a war-ravaging crack about to shatter our coming months.       

Resilience is a possibility for all of us. It works best when we are “holding together” with passion and persistence, the definition of “grit.” Remember, pearls are born from grit.  

Pearls of Peace (PoP) Quiz:

76. When do you use a resilient part of your personality?

77. What can you do today that shows passion and persistence?     

By Janis Johnston

Janis Clark Johnston, Ed.D., has a doctorate in counseling psychology from Boston University. She has worked with children, families, and groups (ages 3-83) with presenting issues of anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and relationship concerns. She initially worked as a school psychologist in public schools and was awarded School Psychology Practitioner of the Year for Region 1 in Illinois for her innovative work. She was a supervising psychologist at a mental health center, an employee-assistance therapist and a trainer for agencies prior to having a family therapy private practice. Recipient of the 2011 Founder’s Award for her dedication to the parenting education of Parenthesis Family Center (now called New Moms), and the 2002 Community Spirit Award from Sarah’s Inn, a domestic violence shelter and education center, Johnston is an active participant in numerous volunteer activities supporting children and families in her community. A frequent presenter at national psychology and educational conferences, Johnston has published journal articles, book chapters, and two books -- It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent: Stories of Evolving Child and Parent Development (2013, hardback; 2019, paperback) and Midlife Maze: A Map to Recovery and Rediscovery after Loss (2017, hardback; 2019, paperback). In addition to augmenting and supporting personal growth in families, Johnston is a Master Gardener and loves nurturing growth in the plants in her yard.

5 comments

  1. To expand the metaphor, it seems to me that part of resilience is accepting moments of uncoiling – admitting I am depleted, letting out the stress, accepting help, believing I can spring back. To ignore or deny that phase only increases the stress. Emotional physics – equal and opposite reaction brings us back to a position of strength. Finding an outlet (maybe having a “good cry”) is not weakness. It is momentarily necessary to strengthen the grit.

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  2. You captured the “uncoiling” process beautifully! The “spring back” process includes a reckoning of raw emotional parts of ourselves. We not only recognize, but allow such internal rawness. When we exile our challenging emotions, it can lead to mental misery and/or physical misery.
    Acknowledging the effects of stressors in this manner hopefully leads to compassion — both self-compassion from our inner essence as well as compassion for others.

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  3. In times of personal fear, anxiety, or anger, I choose to have courage to pursue an epistemic approach towards truth and looking at history and believing in a future. I view it as tangible. History for me is not just about hind-site, but also helps in predicting what can happen in the future, and therefore a guide in freeing me (and hopefully our politicians) up to make better choices and actions. It helps in situating myself in the flow of life with a broader understanding to take action. I am describing a way of life I come back to each day to fulfill the meaning I give to my life. I can choose courage, hope, history, and facts, over despair about climate change, authoritarianism, Putin, war, addictions, etc.. Yes, the “house is on fire,” and I can see the negatives and the positives. I can still take responsibility to take actions, to value life, to love. I made these choices in the past and continue today.

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  4. Yes, everyday practice helps with both resilient and responsible parts of us! All of us have choices about our actions, values and how to best love. You are on the right track to refer to love as a verb.

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  5. Jan,
    This is an extraordinary blog post as most of them are! Resilience…what a topic for a post-pandemic world! Since my husband died during the early months of COVID (from other causes), I continue to think of the millions of people who have lost precious family members and friends. I also think of the current climate disasters causing havoc and loss to people around the world. One thing that I have found to overcome stress and loss is to do away with the idea that life is in a pattern and doesn’t change. I now try to think of life as a series of events which are largely not planned or expected, but with which you need to cope. Doing this through kindness, loving gestures, and social justice actions seem to be a way for me to cope and to build resilience. When positive change happens, it is a joyous occasion! When it doesn’t, it is an opportunity to care for others, and continue working for the common good.

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