The Nature of Human Resilience

Last Thursday evening, The New School’s Tishman Auditorium was brimming with those curious about the mechanics of how humanity bounces back from traumatic situations. The 2012 World Science Fair’s panel on The New Science of Human Resilience provided us with an array of voices to share their perspective on recuperating from dramatic events. Moderated by ABC’s Bill Blakemore, the panel was filled with lively discussion and gave the audience a lot to consider.

To start off, each panelist gave their definition of what exactly constitutes resiliency. George Bonnano, a clinical psychologist and pioneering researcher in how we cope with adversity, defined resilience as “functioning as if the event didn’t happen.” Fran Norris, social psychologist, sees is as “not an outcome, but a process; a positive trajectory.” Dennis Charney, biological psychiatrist, concisely described it as “bouncing back,” whereas Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard sees it as “inner strength, freedom, and peace,” not unlike a cat always landing on its feet.

While each panelist had their unique viewpoints, a few overriding themes seemed to be agreed upon. Flexibility was a huge talking point. There seems to be a dynamic relationship of reciprocity between resilience and flexibility. It appears that flexibility aids in overcoming loss or tragedy and recuperating from a traumatic event strengthens one’s flexibility. Altruism and/or helping those who have gone through similar scenarios often gives those suffering a chance to assign meaning to their experiences, rapidly aiding the healing process. The importance of faith and meditation led to discussion of neuroplasticity and the vastly underestimated potential of the brain—ending the discussion on a very exciting and inspirational note!
-Britt Keller

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