Monday, February 06, 2006

Resilience and other mixed blessings

Resilience is the ability to bounce back into shape after being stretched and pulled in different directions. If you know you are resilient, you have experience of being pulled out of shape. You only get to practice bouncing back by being knocked down once in a while.

Even as I write this, I am noticing a warning from Blogger about maintenance tonight. Blogger is resilient: it regularly experiences problems and fixes them. This means it is trustworthy. It also means someone had a really busy weekend discovering problems that could only be fixed by shutting down the system. Resilience comes with a price tag.

The price tag is much higher if we are not resilient. Resilience does not create the stretch - it merely presupposes it. Once we have been knocked down, we definitely benefit from the ability to bounce back up and keep moving. Before we have been knocked down, thinking about it will not necessarily make it more likely to happen. Or will it?

So we are left back with a choice that has to be made randomly. The choice is this: are you more resilient when you recognize your resilience and take risks knowing that you can bounce back when things go wrong? Or are you more resilient when you focus so clearly on the shape you want that you pull minor variations back into shape almost before you have noticed them?

There is no right answer and although it appears to be an either/or choice, it may also allow for both/and thinking. When we tell stories about resilient people, we notice their resilience and our connection to them without directly courting disaster so that we can bounce back from it. We experience resilience as if it were our own: studies show that our resilience is likely to be characteristic of our connections with other people. Telling stories is one way to understand that resilience comes from inside and outside simultaneously.

Of course, as most of our stories explain, the connection with other people is also likely to make us need resilience. So the argument bounces back to where we started: You only get to practice bouncing back by being knocked down once in a while.

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