My thoughts are often a product of my current experiences - which should be a surprise to no one. Of course the things we are going through in our lives right now will have a strong bearing on what we allow our brain to spend time on.
In the past few weeks I have been thinking long and hard about what it means to be resilient. And, more specifically, what it means for me to be resilient - and what it means for me to support resilience in myself and others. Certainly not a new topic for me, but given the context of a recent surgery, the process of recovery, and the amazing support from the various communities in which Tammy and I have connections, it has come back into prominence.
Sense of Belonging Builds Resilience
One unlooked-for kindness was received on the day I returned home from the hospital. But, before I tell you about that - let me give you some context.
I have been a part of the PAN (Pesticide Action Network) community since last April with my job as Communications Associate. I knew these were good people when I joined and I am happy to work with them. I have worked at other places in the past and have also found plenty of good people, though there have been varying levels of quality if I were to describe the overall workplace community environment.
In short, my past experiences did not prepare me for what arrived in the mail on the day I came home from the hospital. A packet was mailed from the PAN workplace community that included photos of pets - showing me how to relax and recover. Photos of clouds, snow on mountains, gentle waves, and gardens. Each with kind words encouraging me to do what I needed to do to heal. This packet was appreciated very much.
Among the images shared in this packet was a linocut by Simone Adler, which is shown above. I was already considering what makes us resilient and I was already thinking about the role communities play. And, there I was staring at this piece of artwork.
My work community, our families, our community of close friends, the farm community we've created over time, the school community Tammy is a part of, and the various other organization-based communities we are a part of all stood up to remind us that....
Not only do we belong, but they value our membership in the community. That's a good way to encourage both of us to persevere and be strong. It is, in my mind, one of the ways communities build resilience.
Strong Communities Grow from Respect and Tolerance
Over time, I've learned that being part of a strong community has a great deal to do with the respect I show to others and the tolerance I exhibit for any difference from my own preferences and background. I do not believe that a community is strong if everyone has the same characteristics, the same strengths and weaknesses, or the same likes and dislikes. A diverse community (in all senses of the word "diverse") is one that encourages resilience because each of us can bring our strengths and knowledge forward to lift up another person's weakness or help them to learn something new.
And, when I just happen to be the person who is in need, I can lean on those who are feeling stronger or are in a better place at that moment. If we were all the same, we would all struggle at the same time and no one would be able to help. If we were all the same, we would not know how to help because we would all be strong at the same time.
Perhaps some people might wonder at my choice of the word "tolerance" because we have all known a person who has shown tolerance... but not respect. But, I do choose that word and its pairing with "respect" deliberately. Why? Because I think respect and tolerance can lead to acceptance and growth, without necessarily giving up the things that make each person who they are.
Bending, Not Breaking
Each member of a strong community has a responsibility to bend a little bit to make room for other members of that community. This lends itself to resilience of both the whole and the individuals that make up that whole.
Sometimes, we bend by going out of our way to help when someone is recovering from a surgery and can't manage all of the farm work.
Sometimes, we bend by accepting help graciously when we would rather be the ones doing the helping.
Sometimes, we bend by moving outside of our comfort zone of what we know and understand so we can show respect for another member of the community as they share what is important to them or about them.
Sometimes, we bend by realizing that our opinions and our beliefs may not work for someone else - and that doesn't make them any less valuable or any less worthy of our kindness, love, acceptance, and respect.
I liken the development of strong and resilient communities, populated with strong and resilient members, to the process of "hardening off" seedling plants. Our young seedlings are initially protected from the winds, the heavy rains, and the wide temperature swings. As they mature, we must expose them to all of the elements - toughening them up so they can thrive on our farm. The process of hardening off encourages the growth of a strong root system - the basis of a healthy plant.
Perhaps, initially, we protect our fledgling communities and our children (and maybe ourselves when we enter a new group) from difficulties early on, just to get a start. Then we need to increase exposure to the elements of the world, and in doing so we make ourselves, and our communities, stronger by bending in the wind, bowing as the rain pours down, and leaning on each other when things get tough. These trials encourage the growth of roots that will lead our communities to thrive and the strength of our communities will permit the roots of resilience to grow.