The Syrian woman inside the tent at Al Zataari camp in northern Jordan was essentially alone. She held her two-year-old daughter in her arms but her husband, her parents, three sons and most of family were gone. Lost to the machines of war.
Standing in front of her I was feeling lost as well. Far from my own home, an individual inside an organisation steeped in humanitarian expertise, connected to skill but drifting away from relationships.
Her loss is immeasurably greater than mine, but both of us face the same future threat. Social isolation, the breakdown of community, the loss of the protective nature of relationships.
I learnt the skills of coping with stress decades ago. I taught the techniques and passed on knowledge. Conducted research across the world, stood alongside colleagues and refugees and marvelled at how hard it can be to tell the differences sometimes.
But stress management is not enough. Coping is like survival. Essential but insufficient to a life well lived.
Thriving is a different order of being, and life is dependent on the ability to thrive, not merely survive. If the scientist David Attenborough has taught me anything he has taught me that life does not merely survive across the face of the earth, it thrives.
I thought of my family on the other side of the world and held my mobile phone in my hand. I gave the phone to the Syrian woman and told the translator to tell her to call someone she knew, a friend, a loved one. Just call them right now.
I have come to believe three things;
- Coping is not enough
- Resilience is the ability to thrive. Some discussions of resilience measure resilience by assessing ‘coping’, and by coping they mean the capacity to not break under strain. I believe that coping is only the halfway point in building resilience. In my opinion resilience is marked by the capacity to cope plus being creative and joyful.
- Thriving is founded on interconnected social networks.
Look at a spider’s web. Intricately built, maintained on a daily or hourly basis. Look at the threads. At each point in the web there is more than one connecting line. More than two. More than three. In most cases four. Trace those lines. They connect to another point. And that point connects to other points.
Critically, each point on the web is supported by threads to other points that are connected to other points, which are also connected to each other by other threads.
The resilience of the web is not that silk is incredibly strong in and of itself. The resilience of the web is that all the points are interconnected.
It is the interconnected character of the web that gives the strength and resilience.
If one thread breaks others take on the strain and no single point is left alone. The pressure on the whole web is absorbed by every single thread and point.
Which means not merely that the web survives but it thrives. It sparkles in the sun, glistens in the rain, glows in the sunshine.
We all know that it is important to have friends. We can all most likely make a list of names of friends. This is good, and will help in our capacity to cope. Maybe even thrive.
Resilience is a synonym for thriving, not a synonym for coping. Resilience is outward focused. Coping is inward focused. Resilience is growth, change and joy. Coping is maintenance, sustainability and survival.
Both are essential, but thriving is desirable.
If we are to really thrive, it is an interconnected social network that provides the best protection and the best foundation for life. For growth. For thriving.
The way to assess the quality of your own social network is to examine how well each of your friends knows each other, not just how well they know you. Do your friends interact? Do your family members interact with each other if you are not around?
As the Syrian woman made a call, and found a cousin, her face became younger and life came back to her body. She has an incredibly tough road ahead. But with a social connection her prospects have immediately increased.
Interconnected social networks take time and energy to build and maintain. They do not just ‘happen’. Many of us enter global work contexts without much awareness of our networks. The excitement and enjoyment of the work mitigates the lack of social relationships. Maybe after the years have rolled round we find ourselves busy, tired, but isolated. At risk of psychological, physical and social damage.
What do we do then?
We pick up the phone and make a call. Sometimes we need someone to help us make the call, figure out who to call, and encourage us to keep on making those calls.
Which is where resilience consultants can help. Most of us who work in this area know from personal experience what being isolated means, and how it impacts our lives and our capacity for growth and joy. We have been in the same jobs, maybe even the same city, country, hotel, bar or airline lounge as you at some time. Maybe we even sat next to each other on that flight.
Building effective social networks is work. It can be hard work. The spider is constantly attending to the web. Getting started can be a challenge. Getting assistance in getting started is easy. Organisations like Thrive Worldwide, and my own, The Resilience CheckIn, provide the opportunity to review the resources and networks we belong to, to figure out how resilient these networks are, and begin the process of enhancing, building and strengthen the things that make us strong and creative. We all begin with what we have, and we are often surprised by how much we already have in terms of networks of support.
Start by taking a look at your own personal social networks. Begin with a list of names of those you regularly interact with. Then look at often the people on that list interact with each other, apart from interacting with you. That will give you a rough and ready baseline.
Building your resilience profile is a process that organisations such as Thrive and the Resilience CheckIn can assist with, through the clarification of your social resilience right through to specific techniques and activities that can, and will, enhance your capacity to thrive.
John Fawcett is Director of The Resilience CheckIn. John has 25 years experience in international humanitarian contexts, working in crisis and development programmes on every continent with a wide range of organisations. He now lives in his home country of New Zealand, providing services to global clients. Learn more: www.resiliencecheckin.com.