The Merriam Webster Online Dictionary defines resilience as the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress. Another definition is an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.
The Free Dictionary says it is the ability to recover quickly from illness, change, or misfortune. It is also the property of a material that enables it to resume its original shape or position after being bent, stretched or compressed.
I think however that nobody else defines “resilience” better than Filipinos.
It works at the individual level and at the national sphere. It can be seen from the most mundane of concerns to the most earth-shaking developments.
A recent survey by Gallup, a polling agency, shows that Filipinos are among the happiest people on earth. Gallup’s definition of happiness: feeling as though one has been treated with respect, smiling or laughing a lot, learning or doing something interesting and having feelings of enjoyment.
That “happiness” is by no means occasioned exclusively by having adequate food, shelter and clothing, good education for the kids, and cash enough to spend on needs and wants alike.
Happiness and resilience are two different things, of course, but the former may indicate the latter.
At first blush it sounds surprising that we would be so happy when we have a more-than-enough share of disasters both natural and manmade, when we see many basic flaws in how our government is run, and when we observe that life for any given Filipinos family is hardly the stuff of storybooks —one or both parents are working abroad, or the parents are separated, or are together merely for appearances’ sake.
This year alone, many fell victim to the death and destruction wrong by weather disturbances: monsoon rain in August, typhoon Pablo in December, among others.
We have seen how poverty and unemployment have continued to weigh down the majority of our people.
And then there are families who must contend with absence, or conflict, or plain unconventionality.
Still, we Filipinos find a way to smile and cope. The communities devastated by typhoons eventually reconstruct their homes and try to “return to normal,” if there is such a thing. Those who have lost loved ones move on even as they grieve.
Even the poor manage to put together neighborhood parties and sing their hearts out in videoke sessions.
Children act like children and have fun with their siblings, other relatives and friends anyway, and grow up to be loving, responsible and compassionate individuals.
True to the definition, we can take anything and emerge as though nothing has happened. More than that, we do not only return to a previous undisturbed state. We do so armed with the benefit of hindsight and of wisdom that only experience can teach us. As the German philosopher Nietzsche said: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
But inasmuch as resilience is a virtue, it could turn into a vice when coupled with a sense of fatalism, the belief that one has to unquestioningly accept whatever one is given. Resilience becomes a curse when we start believing that there is nothing else we can do but cope. The truth is, we have the choice and the power to make things better and to shield ourselves from harm—physical or otherwise.
For example, there may be nothing we can do about the worsening climate conditions and even the location of the Philippines on the global map, but we can prepare for disasters and minimize casualties by adequate preparation at the community and even the family level.
We can fight poverty by studying hard and rejecting the temptations of crime and vice and the lure of easy money. Couples can plan their families to make sure they are able to give their children a dignified life, where they don’t have to beg or grovel or do something illegal just to put food on the table.
We can talk to our children honestly about the importance of making sound decisions in life, from their choice of careers, the company they keep and yes, even in their choice of partners.
Resilience is good, but it can also be bad when it stops us from taking control of the rest of our lives. So here’s to being resilient, and being infinitely wiser as we go along.