Resilience: Roll with the punches
Life Positive|December 2021
In a world where change is the only certainty, the quality that will stand us in good stead is resilience, which is the capacity to spring back twice as good as new each time life knocks us down. Suma Varughese explores the concept and offers a spectrum of strategies to build it up.
Suma Varughese

Let’s start with some stories, because everyone loves stories. Besides, we learn best from our fellow human beings. When we know that someone has done something, then that begins to be possible for us too. Remember Roger Bannister? Once he broke the four-minute mile barrier on May 6, 1954, it only took another month and a half for John Landry to break the same barrier and Roger Bannister’s record.

Paramjeet Singh was a successful Delhi businessman and at one point the sole distributor of Rasna (a soft drink). He had a big godown in Lajpat Nagar and seven–eight autos to deliver Rasna all over Delhi. Then the 1984 riots in the wake of the assassination of Indira Gandhi broke out, and he lost his godown, his fleet of autos, and his dealership. No matter how hard he tried for another dealership, it eluded him. He restarted life by buying a taxi and driving it, always in a crisp white uniform and with a pleasant deportment. All went well for a few years, but while coming down from Mussoorie, he had a terrible accident that put him in a coma for 13 days. He woke up in a Dehradun hospital with knees, rib cage, and one hand crushed.

Later, at Safdarjung Hospital, doctors rebuilt him over three months, with another three and a half months of physiotherapy and exercises. He was up again, but the taxi was destroyed. He bought an auto, but a few years later, he had a stroke. It took time but he recovered fully. Today, he drives an auto with a smile on his face and never refuses a passenger.

Now this may not read like a success story because he has been getting progressively poorer, but in the eyes of God, it would surely qualify because his spirit has been getting progressively richer. He has not ended up as an embittered, angry victim. He has retained his humanity, regardless of circumstances. No matter what life did to him, his spirit remained uncrushed.

In the Bible, there is a parallel story about Job. He was a great lover of God, and God rewarded him lavishly with good health, wealth, cattle, and a large and loving family. When God praised Job’s devotion, the jealous Satan asked him to test if it would hold up even in the face of challenges. God agreed, and Job was met with a series of disasters. His family was decimated and so was his cattle. His wealth was completely demolished, and, eventually, his body too was devastated and covered with large sores. Despite the intense suffering, Job never repudiated God. He famously said: “Naked came I from my mother’s womb; naked go I thither. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Eventually, God restored to Job much more than He had taken from him.

What is resilience?

So both these people displayed tremendous resilience when faced with challenges. Is it possible for us to reach such heights? Why not? We too, like them, are human. If they can do it, so can we. Remember this: It is always important to know that we have the same human potential as anyone else. We only have to actualise it.

Let us explore how.

At the heart of the tremendous need for resilience is that we live in a world whose only constant is change. Change is the only thing we can bet on. Nothing and nobody remains the same. Everything and everybody keeps changing. Our bodies change, our cells die and new cells are born, our natures keep changing, and the circumstances in our lives keep changing, mostly without any volition on our part. COVID is the biggest example of this. It has proven to man without any room for doubt that it is not we who run the show. Ultimately, we have nothing in our hands except the present breath and the present moment. This is a hard reality to deal with, and we can only cope with it by cultivating the capacity to roll with the punches and spring back from our setbacks twice as good as new. In other words, by learning to be resilient.

It is always good to begin with definitions. The dictionary defines resilience as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. And as the ability to spring back into shape—elasticity.

Ever since the pandemic first invaded our consciousness in March 2020, imprisoned all of humanity for long stretches of time, destroyed many industries and countless businesses, brought untold suffering, including deaths to millions all over the world, and left its mark on virtually every human being living in these times, the quality that was talked about most was resilience. How do you spring back to shape after the entire world has been flattened? How to recover from the colossal difficulties that the pandemic brought in its wake? Bankruptcy, job loss, loss of health, death of loved ones, the inability to meet loved ones or go out of the house, and the work-from-home syndrome. That is the big question the world is wrestling with presently.

So here is the thing. The level of our resilience depends on our relationship with life. Is our relationship antagonistic or cooperative? Do we believe that life is working for us or against us? If we see life as a hostile force out to get us, then we programme ourselves to resist all that comes our way. If we see it as a benevolent force that has our interests at heart, then even when problems come, we still have faith that life will be on our side, that some good will come out of the situation, and we will be able to get through. And secondly, how do we perceive our size vis-à-vis our problems? Do we see the problem as bigger than us, or do we see ourselves as bigger than the problem? If the problem is bigger, then we will buckle down under its weight. However, if we see ourselves as bigger than the problem, then we will surely triumph over it.

How to cultivate resilience

So how do we calibrate our attitude to life? And how do we increase our inner dimensions? Aah! That is a journey that can take years. For resilience is not a quality that you can spray on or force yourself into. It has to be a part of who you are. Both these capacities depend on so many things. To begin with, on our competence and capabilities, which in turn create our confidence in ourselves and build self-trust and self-reliance. Then there is our value system which tells us what is important to us and what we are willing to do to stand by it. Values give us our moral fibre and shape our character. We also have to factor in our levels of will and determination, our flexibility, intelligence, and creativity. And so many other qualities as well.

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