Building community in a changing world

March 1, 2024

What is “Resilience”?

Just received this email from Andrew Lang about a topic I’ve considered a bit lately:

Having resilience doesn’t mean to “bounce back.”

And yet many of us have been given this default understanding of what it means to be resilient – to recover from harsh changes and challenges so we can keep moving forward.

This is a problem.

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun notes this default understanding implies “the resilient person bounces back quickly, mostly unharmed and unchanged, from any hardship.”

This understanding of resiliency disregards and attempts to bypass:

  • the harm we can experience in the midst of change,
  • our inner processing of these experiences, and
  • any growth that can emerge from adversity.

Just take a moment and think about what you’ve heard from others during times of challenge: It’s not that big of a deal. Brush it off. Rub some dirt on it. Keep your head up.

This form of resilience is more about ensuring we keep on keeping on than it is about us being present to what it means to live a human experience.

Here’s another definition to try on and see how it fits:


​”The capacity of a system, enterprise, or person to maintain its core purpose and integrity in the face of dramatically changed circumstances.” –Andrew Zolli

With this definition in mind, being resilient isn’t about “bouncing back.”

Being resilient is a matter of experiencing the messiness of the world and maintaining one’s tender connection, however fragile it may be, to their sense of perseverance, courage, and identity.