A teenage boy told me his difficult story of growing up in extreme poverty after being abandoned by his dad at an early age. He watched several of his friends fall to the temptations of drug abuse, and he said, “opportunities don’t happen for people like me”. By opportunities, he meant redemption and resettlement with his family.
But what stood out for me, was this young man’s ability to persevere through all the hardships he encountered as a child growing up under the wrath of the unforgiving streets….I would argue he has a lot of resilience.
Resilience is “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness” (Oxford Dictionary). It’s the ability to spring back and overcome deeply challenging situations and hardship. Resilience is what kept the Buffalo Soldiers alive, united and hopeful that the era of slavery would come to an end. It’s what pushed Jews to survive the inhumane conditions of the Holocaust and mount an escape from Sobibor. It’s what pushed African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement to persevere in the midst of Jim Crow Laws to end disenfranchisement and racial oppression. Resilience is what kept this young man hopeful. To believe that despite being imprisoned, beaten, and disregarded, there was always light at the end of the tunnel and a winner’s medal awaited him.
Nature and nurture
I would argue that resilience is innate and we all have all been created with some level of resilience. The capacity and measure of resilience is determined by individual traits such as psyche, mentality, and temperament. Resilience is an internal psychological factor, not determined by DNA or genetic makeup. Have you ever wondered how some people have been able to survive years of bondage or why some impeccable leaders such as Harriet Tubman, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, Frederick Douglas, George Carver, Benjamin Banneker and many others rose during times of great adversity?
“You should never view your challenges as a disadvantage. Instead, it’s important for you to understand that your experience facing and overcoming adversity is actually one of your biggest advantages.” Michelle Obama
You may have to struggle through a lot of adversities and hardships in life, but resilience will allow you to see them as moments of opportunity. I see this every day with the young people I support who are living and working on the streets at S.A.L.V.E. Though I still look forward to the day that we will be able to say “there is no street called home”.