Sharpening Resiliency’s Blunted Edge

Image by Allan Joyner from Pixabay

Fatigue. It’s the new culprit named in this 2020 saga whether we’re referring to Zoom fatigue or pandemic fatigue. The exhaustion and impatience that’s generated from constant vigilance, constant constraints, constant video conferencing. Being careful without necessarily being fearful is tough, especially if you haven’t witnessed the virus first-hand. At times, it seems flat-out fear might actually create more motivation.

 

The fatigue-solution on everyone’s tongue is “resilience,” and the term risks losing its edge. It’s ubiquitous because we want to appear strong and undeterred, and as such, constitutes a value. My problem is that I’ve been misguided as to what actually promotes resilience. It has always walked with a swagger, worn boots and tattoos, and sings lines like “I keep a stiff upper lip/ And I shoot from the hip.” Its more formal look wears a bowler hat and croons,  “The record shows I took the blows/ And did it my way.” Angus, Malcolm, and Frank — you’ve not been very helpful. These images are shame-based, by which I mean that failing to walk with their brand of resilience ends in self-loathing, self-rejecting thoughts like, “I suck,” “I’m really no good at X,” etc., They’re a tough gamble in a saga that requires isolation in some form or another. We’re stuck with ourselves. We must like ourselves. We’ve got to treat ourselves with kindness.

 

Recently, my colleague Mendi Benigni was giving a presentation, and one slide in particular has come back to me again and again: Resilience is learning to treat ourselves and others with compassion. It caught me off-guard because I’m not prone to pairing resiliency and compassion. Apparently, it’s a thing. There’s a fairly recent study out (2015) showing a correlation between mindfulness and self-compassion increasing sleep quality and resilience in young health professionals. A researcher Columbia University Medical Center even insists that self-compassion is more important for resilience than self-esteem.

 

Compassion as a pathway to resilience is counter-intuitive to me. Isn’t self-compassion synonymous with making excuses? No. The Greater Good Science Center at UC-Berkeley has a page on their site that qualifies  what self-compassion looks like in a practice called a “Self-Compassion Break.” It takes only five minutes and has five easy steps. I would recommend that you visit the site and read them in full. Here they are, truncated:

  1. Recall a stressful situation (if you’re in one, use it)
  2. Pay attention to the emotional discomfort in your body
  3. Acknowledge that it’s a moment of suffering
  4. Recognize this suffering as a part of your shared humanity
  5. Practice self-kindness by saying to yourself, “May I be kind to myself” or “May I forgive myself”

What I like about this practice, especially as it relates to pandemic fatigue, is that it reminds me that I’m not alone. There are over 331 million people just in the US alone dealing with the exhaustion of COVID and its effects in our country. I’m not alone. Correlate the last line on the Back on the Bricks page that reads, “And we will do it together, as one family, as Cougars.” I’m not alone. We share, in our common humanity, the suffering of having lost colleagues, family members, and friends from the illness while we also recognize that giving up is not an option. I’m not alone. For their sakes, for our students’ sakes, and for humanity’s sake we keep moving, and when we get to that point where we’re wanting to let our guard down because we simply can’t take it anymore, I hope we can say to ourselves, “May I be patient. May I be strong. I’m not alone.”

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