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The trouble with resilience

by Alex in |

Today’s shooting is one of those moments when time, and our hearts, break. How can we go on? How will life ever feel the same?

What should shock us is not only the moment of tragedy, but how quickly tragedy fades. I remember with icy-hot clarity the morning of 9/11, and the sense that the world and our lives would never again feel normal. And yet for most of us, other than the moment when when we take our shoes off at airport security — the moment when all of us turn to the stranger next to us in line, and share our chagrin and annoyance at this continued performance of faux security — the world got back to normal awfully fast

We often celebrate this quality of human resilience, and marvel at the way people seem to pick themselves up after tragedy and somehow go on. At an individual level, that resilience is as necessary as it is imperfect: talk to anyone who has survived a terrible personal loss and they will tell you that alongside the act of daily survival and even the return of joy there is a continuing and permanent grief.

But resilience has a lot to answer for when it comes to the way we cope with tragedy as a larger human community. We spend a day crying, tweeting and Facebooking our grief, and a few days or weeks or months later, it’s back to business as usual.

What would it look like to let go of that imperative to heal — to commit to holding onto the daily experience of grief over the ever-accumulating tragedies in a broken world? I can think of at least one friend who lives that way, and it isn’t easy: it makes the world a very difficult place to live in… at times so difficult that it’s hard to sustain the energy and the compromises that drive meaningful change.

But heal too quickly, and there’s another danger; a danger that today’s events underline all too clearly. In our rush to heal, our flight from pain and our lauding of resilience, we lose touch with the urgent need to change the policies and culture that make the next tragedy inevitable.

So give yourself one more hour, day or week to soak up this feeling that something is terribly wrong. And as the emotions fades, and that resilience kicks in, use the momentum to do something that actually addresses the problem.

First posted on December 14,2012

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