Recognizing resilience

While listening to NPR on my work commute recently I heard the most astounding report. A young man had gone to visit some of the residential camps for earthquake victims in Haiti and mentioned that he had expected that individuals living in such camps spend most of their time waiting in lines for provisions or “lying around.” I almost put the brake pedal through the floor! What he said next may have come as a huge surprise to him – but not to anyone who has witnessed human resilience. Turns out, the camps were alive with entreprenurial economic activity! Camp residents had, in many cases used their prior skills to create shops selling needed goods, beauty salons , there was even a guy with the clever idea to create a place where people could charge cell phones while watching a DVD movie. The Haitians did not find this unusual – there is a strong urge among resilient people to get on with life. I do not want to minimize the terrible tragedy the people of Haiti have suffered – but life in Haiti has never been easy and the people who live there have learned to be resilient and to find a joy in living despite hardship. This isn’t the first time I have heard such reporting on NPR – it seems the correspondents who work there are continually amazed by people who can grow their own food, sweep their own sidewalks, recover from bad luck. Why is it that there seems to be a subset of Americans, particularly well-educated, well paid Americans whose reaction to resilience is AMAZEMENT? One has to wonder – what do these individuals do during temporary crisis like the recent heavy snowfalls, or wildfires? What would they do if they ever had to live somewhere with seasonal floods? I get the sense that these are the people – who finding themselves in any kind of a difficult situation – think the cell phone is the solution. Call someone and whine. You can almost hear them in the midst of a disaster: the power is out and I can’t get a latte. Somebody (some anonymous less important somebody) has to do something. But they wouldn’t know what do do themselves – because the people who make up this group, particularly the blabb-erati, do not know how to do anything but blab. There is a message here for those of us who work for foundations and charitable organizations. We tend to be under the sway of the blabbocrats. Those with keyboards and microphones tend to cast blame and get us riled up and we rush to respond in our self-righteousness. We are all increasingly ready to believe that humans are fragile, not resilient. We should be careful as we swoop in with money, and cameras, and outrage at the slowness of the responses by the “somebodies” that we do not undermine the most important attribute we humans have to help us recover from whatever life and nature bring to bear – resilience. The ability to go on, to continue to see the good in the world, and to hope for the future. By all means, we should be responsive, we who have been lucky this time should do all we can to help. BUT we should not turn resilient survivors into victims because it might suit our own agendas. We should not be surprised that individuals are willing to pick up, dust off, and go on – we should not expect to see people “lying around” — and whatever assistance we provide should be offered in the spirit of helping – not furthering helplessness.