Monday, November 14, 2016

Fight or flight. (Or listen to Gandalf.)

Trump, Brexit, a Syrian asylum seeker and school applications have me thinking about resilience. How best do we make ourselves, our families and our societies resilient to the 'thousand Natural shocks' of human life?

I sympathise with Hamlet's desire for annihilation.... but as most of us will never choose suicide, we don't get to decide what events our lives contain. "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us", as Gandalf says to Frodo so beautifully.

Hamlet and Frodo personify the conflict between natural desires to 1) hide away, retreat, even die, rather than fight and 2) approach the foe and wrestle with it. This is not a simple or once and for all choice - it is nuanced, endless. Many times we will be called upon to decide whether and how to stand against or to capitulate; to speak up or remain silent; to act or wait.

Resilience, then, is the ability to keep making that 'fight or flight' choice well. In ways that promote life and defend it against 'shocks'.

I mention school applications with tongue in cheek. But young children are ill-affected by today's pressurised early education system and I can determine a little of how my own three-year-olds engage with it. Full-blown resistance might mean campaigning, home educating, delaying school, abstaining from tests. I'm shooting for resilience by accepting the 'normal' system so they can learn to cope with it (capitulating) and hoping to keep the home environment untouched by its pressures (standing against).

When it comes to the political landscape - not unrelated - our easy options are to grumble or deny reality. As individuals, we can do nothing about the new leader of the free world. To a certain extent, we must simply wait and see how all this plays out. But there are plenty of ways to act, too. Some of these are explicitly political. (At the very least, we must vote every time we have chance). We can also build resilience to the hatred, scapegoating and false sense of entitlement that fire destructive politics with hospitality, simplicity of lifestyle, rest, spiritual practices, honest conversation, generosity, time spent outdoors, good consumer choices. I could go on.

I won't say much about the Syrian asylum seeker. It's not a close relationship and I'm prone to fantasy. What I see is someone separated from a family and traumatised homeland, transplanted into a vastly diminished quality of life, dependent on others to determine his future. And an acceptance, positivity and openness that show how, even in those dreaded moments of enforced victimhood, we can be resilient in ways that bless others.

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