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Local View: 'Resilience' is the buzzword; Duluth can join the conversation

From the column: "Now seems like a good time to ... reexamine resilience as a coping mechanism and survival strategy, as a way of being or ontology, and as a foundation for building and strengthening community."

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Manny Francisco / Cagle Cartoons
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What does it mean to be resilient? These days, “resilience” pops up in our common language, perhaps more than ever.

According to Google Trends, a data metric tracking search terms, “resilience” reached peak popularity in the U.S. in September 2020, although the word continues to have traction with regular surges above 80% of this benchmark. Globally, “resilience” achieved peak popularity in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020 and again at the Russian invasion of Ukraine in March 2022. Worldwide, and in the U.S. specifically, the word first began to track above 25% of its recent peaks during the 2007-2008 financial crisis. It has trended up ever since.

Another metric, Google Books’ Ngrams, reveals “resilience” to have spiked exponentially in print since 2000, after nearly 200 years of relative balance in the frequency of its usage in the English language.

Clearly, we live in an anxious time, with the compounding crises of climate change, economic volatility, democracy, a global pandemic, violence, rights, war, and on and on.

But what is resilience? How do you become resilient? The American Psychological Association, the Mayo Clinic, and government agencies like the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development all have internet landing pages defining resilience and providing resources.

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“Resilience” is buzzing. But is it a useful tool and something that can be learned and practiced? Is it a cliché? Is it simply a way of individualizing responsibility and action for bigger, systemic problems?

Are some of us asked to be more resilient than others?

While resilience is sometimes criticized for its individualized focus and its inattentiveness to structural factors, many scholars and community organizers find utility in a modified version of the concept.

Historian Monica M. White, in her work on Black urban farmers and civil-rights organizations, described “community resilience” as “a way for a community to absorb a disturbance and to reorganize itself while undergoing change.”

Botanist and Potawatomi writer Robin Wall Kimmerer offered the framework of reciprocity in our ecological relationships as a sort of roadmap for resilience. “We can be partners in renewal,” Kimmerer wrote in 2014, and “we can be medicine for the Earth.”

Writer and activist Valarie Kaur similarly emphasized the ancient wisdom in “deep solidarity,” declaring that “the only way we can stand is with one another. The only way we will find longevity and resilience is if we do so in community,” as she stated in a lecture in April at Hollins University in Virginia.

Such community-centered notions of resilience can be found in Duluth. It is in the mission statement of the American Indian Community Housing Organization (AICHO), for example. It is found in the growing number of nature-based and/or forest schools that follow the latest research from childhood-development studies on the resilience to be gained from immersion in nature. Perhaps you or your organization have considered resilience.

Now seems like a good time to join the conversation, to reexamine resilience as a coping mechanism and survival strategy, as a way of being or ontology, and as a foundation for building and strengthening community.

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The Alworth Center for the Study of Peace and Justice at the College of St. Scholastica will host a free public lecture series on resilience beginning this Thursday, Sept. 22. Join us for urgent conversations featuring local voices.

Tim Lorek is an assistant professor of history and director of the Alworth Center for the Study of Peace and Justice at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth. For more information on the lecture series featured in this column, he suggests going to css.edu/peace or following on Twitter @css_peace.

Tim Lorek.jpg
Tim Lorek

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