Reflections on Resilience

Guest Blogger, John Plodinec of CARRI, provided this fable on resilience:

“CARRI’s view of community resilience encompasses resistance, response and recovery.  As Claire Rubin and others have said, we simply don’t know enough about recovery and until we do, that lack of knowledge will hinder our attempts to become more resilient.  But to better understand what I think we need to know, let me tell a story.

A group of foresters are walking through the dense undergrowth when they reach a clearing where a mighty oak has been uprooted by the wind.  Some of them stop to study why that oak fell – the wind speed, the root system, perhaps the soil and so on.  Some of them go on to the next clearing where a pine has been struck by lightning, and died and fallen.  Again, some of them stop to study why the pine fell. Others go on to another clearing and begin to study how an elm attacked by disease has fallen.  While each studies their downed tree in minute detail, all of them bemoan the fact that there are really too few downed trees of the same type that have fallen for the same reason to be able to obtain a general knowledge of why oaks or pines or elms fall due to wind, or lightning or disease.

But they are standing in the midst of a forest in which the trees are each bending to the wind and the other elements and then straightening when the wind or the rain dies down.  And the foresters are really most interested in what keeps the trees standing straight and tall, not what makes them fall.  So it should be with community recovery and resilience.  Resilience does not arise from demonstrated weakness but rather from the exertion of strength.  Thus, we need to know and understand the strengths of each community, how those strengths are exerted, and how we can nurture those strengths so that they become even stronger.  We must look to those still standing to understand resilience, not those who have been beaten down by the storm.

If we are to become more resilient, we need to better understand what strengths are needed to recover from crises and how to nurture them.  Clearly we don’t know enough yet – the challenge to researchers is to illuminate these still dark corners of our communities.”

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