Strength in the Face of Adversity

“The oak fought the wind and was broken; the willow bent when it must and survived.” — Robert Jordan, The Fires of Heaven / The Wheels of Time Series (1993)

Resilience, in human abilities, is the capacity to recover, rise above, or overcome circumstances. It is a life skill or trait that is often heard of during the aftermath of a calamity or national disaster. It is the measure of a person’s strength in the face of adversity.

A trait, on the other hand, is the smallest unit of culture of learned behavior patterns exhibited by a person but is commonly expressed by many.

While it is true that people, in general, deal with everyday strife, stress, and personal misgivings independently and differently from each one, there will always be that common trait that defines most families, communities, or even races that is usually based on genetic make-up (acquired from parent sources), culture, beliefs, custom, or environment.

The most recent typhoon that shattered parts of the Philippines, specifically the province of Cagayan and significant parts of the National Capital Region—which serve as ‘catch basin’ areas during storms and excessive (and repeated) rainfall—was another testament to the resilience of many Filipinos, albeit socially. After all, natural occurrences and disasters are not uncommon in the Philippines, being an archipelago and a tropical country. Due to those social challenges, many Filipinos have somehow nurtured all aspects of coping mechanisms that would amount to what is known as resilience.

In my opinion, resilience has become a trait common among many Filipinos. A person’s daily life is an embodiment of resilience as realized in its four types: (1) Physical – the capacity to overcome physical challenges; (2) Mental – the ability to think flexibly, weigh options, make sound decisions and judgments, and set clear and realistic goals; (3) Emotional – having sufficient emotional intelligence, enabling one to find positivity in grim situations; (4) Social/Community – willingness to connect with others socially and to work together for a common goal. These types are further actualized in three kinds of problems: (1) Major Life Problems – financial crises, death of a loved one, homelessness, and unemployment; (2) Situational Problems – anxiety from work, relationships, and anything that thwarts enjoyment in life; (3) Daily/Work Problems – tight deadlines, rude colleagues, traffic, and bills.

Resilience is indeed a mouthful, but practical references surprisingly elucidates its occurrence in a person’s everyday life.

For instance, a person who figured in a vehicular accident and has had a major surgery undergoes physical therapy just to regain his physical/motor abilities. He intends to be able to return in shape the soonest time possible so he can resume work as a medical professional. He keeps a daily health routine, which involves exercise and a strict diet. He starts thinking more about his health. After all, physical fitness is the first step to happiness.

Equipping oneself with the knowledge of life-saving measures will truly pay off when an opportunity to save a life or administer first aid in a life-threatening emergency comes. To be able to budget a meager cash flow for the monthly upkeep of the family may prove rewarding. Regularly to challenge and nurture the mind by way of solving puzzles and riddles, playing games, learning a new language, or engaging in a new hobby can keep a person inspired and motivated.

A marketing executive has entertained several positive ideas or possibilities that may be lined with a sound financial proposal, which did not materialize as planned. She shrugs off the shortcoming and works on another proposal. Her sound judgment, intuition, inclination to solve conflicts, and empathy are keys to achieving a positive outcome from a negative situation. Emotional resilience is enhanced by way of imagining, dreaming, planning, creating/making art, meditating, and reflecting. Going for a stroll while thinking of plans for the future can be an enjoyable exercise.

Having the opportunity to be of help in a community by way of rescuing refugees during a crisis situation can be also an uplifting experience. Being able to connect with others within a social circle or catching up with everyone’s situations is another. Working with a team and effectively and efficiently following a process for a common goal is a positive workplace culture worthy of building on. All these should involve the values of trust, diversity, tolerance, respect, and being kind to one another. Developing the habit of greeting coworkers wholesomely as one enters the workplace is energizing. Nurturing the social/community resilience may also involve reaching out to others, extending a handshake, or having meaningful conversations.

Overall, whatever situation is indeed an opportunity for a person to exhibit resilience. Through time and with the help of certain experiences, a person adapts to stress and adversity. As the old adage goes, “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” Every downfall is an opportunity to lift the self up. Yes, many others might in the end have succumbed to the starkest and gravest struggles in life; but sometime in anyone’s existence, one must have tried to rise above the most difficult challenges that one had to face. That in itself is an enough valiant display of such human resilience!

(“Currently working at the Philippine International Convention Center, where she began service 21 years ago, Kathryn Valladolid Ebrahim was an alumna of St. Scholastica’s College and finished a degree in Bachelor of Arts, Major in Sociology, at the University of Santó Tomás.”)