One of the terms that is often used when considering how we cope collectively with the triple challenges of peak oil, climate change and economic meltdown is “resilience”. It seems we would benefit from cultivating this collectively at the levels of local community, at a national level and globally.
Whenever we attempt to establish resilience at a community level (any sort of community, whether this is your household, the town where you live, or the business where you work) we have a choice about whether to impose certain changes on others or to encourage resilience to be adopted one person at a time – nurturing personal resilience. This can involve educating, encouraging, supporting, listening to individuals, accepting and acting on feedback and remaining open to change. Up until now our “survival of the fittest” mindset has involved imposing changes and ways of operating on others (globalisation) and it has brought us to a very uncomfortable spot. Perhaps it’s time to look at encouraging personal resilience instead and a great place to start is with ourselves.
What is Personal Resilience?
Personal resilience is our ability to recover from setbacks, to embrace change and to soften, rather than fight, in the face of hardship. I would suggest that it can be viewed as a kind of sustainable, robust form of self-esteem.
The problem with our self-esteem in a consumer driven society is that we’ve been encouraged to develop our identity based on what we can acquire and achieve, who we know and who know us, rather than on who we are. This actually makes us dependent on others for our self-esteem. It becomes something that we see as outside of ourselves and subject to change as others’ opinions of us change. We might feel we need to achieve certain qualifications or accreditation for example in order to be acceptable to others. We might feel the need to wear fashionable clothes, drive the right car, belong to the right organisation to fit into our community or peer group. Whilst I’m not saying that all qualifications, trends in fashion and networking are a bad thing, what I believe undermines our self-esteem is complying with such external criteria without question and without checking them against what would be ethical and authentic for us.
Similarly, with acquiring personal possessions to boost our self-esteem – what will determine how dependent we are on the external world is our intention in making that acquisition.
Roger had started working from home as a small business consultant. He wanted to be seen to be more sustainable in his business venture and to “look the part of a business professional” by upgrading his car to a more fashionable model with lower fuel consumption. When he examined the cost, in terms of carbon and money, of going ahead with the upgrade, he found, much to his surprise, that it would be more sustainable on both counts for him to keep his current car and simply reduce his fuel consumption by using it less. He decided to take this option and review the situation annually.
This exploration brought Roger’s attachment to his image to the fore and led him to improve other areas of his life where he was sacrificing his values, his time and his energy in order to seek approval from others.
What does shaky personal resilience look like?
Apart from being attached to meeting others’ approval, it can manifest as feelings of superiority or isolation, wanting to impose our will and opinions on others or to blame others, doubting our abilities or being part of a false identity or “performance”, rather than behaving authentically.
How do we make the shift to Personal Resilience?
1. Focusing on our similarities to others rather than our differences.
2. Encouraging others, exploring possibilities with them and valuing their talents and opinions.
3. Trusting our own judgement and intuition.
4. Taking responsibility for ourselves and behaving authentically.
5. Slowing down our decision making and pausing to reflect on our intention.
Living sustainably is not only about knowing how to make greener, more ethical, practical choices in our lives. It is also about developing personal resilience so that we can handle the many changes that we will face in moving towards a more sustainable future.
Suggested Further Reading.
Overcoming Low Self-Esteem – Melanie Fennell
The Places That Scare You. A Guide to Fearlessness – Pema Chodron
The Invitation – Oriah Mountain Dreamer