Wanting vulnerable and disadvantaged people to “build resilience” is a euphemism for, “we’re not going to do shit”.
Four young people walk into a room. The adults in the room don’t notice them enter, so the young people stand by the door.
The most vulnerable members of our society have made it this far because they are resilient. They’ve suffered, seen suffering and managed to push themselves forward in life somehow. When the people that help shape the society that these vulnerable people inhabit, talk about “building resilience”, it’s redundant. They’re already resilient. Lack of resilience in a system that creates trauma isn’t the problem. A commitment to not moving away from a system and mechanisms that create trauma is the actual problem.
The adults are in deep discussion about the hardships of young tragic headlines and how to help them navigate the various systems they interact with.
Resilience is hailed as a virtue, and it is. The ability to weather adversity, pain and hardship is admirable, maybe even necessary at times. It’s a survival mechanism that we should all have at our disposal, but ultimately valorising it as a way of life (especially for vulnerable groups and individuals) is harmful and dangerous. It cements the idea within them and the society that they’re in that their worth and image is in the scars they receive. Rather than examining the lives of the resilient to see how to prevent further trauma, and shielding others from similar pain and hardship, we actively send them back to their frying pans and fires. We decline to explore all the systems that coalesce to create these strife-filled lives, close our eyes to the daily oppressions that are maintained by individuals, industries and societal structures. We find it much easier to ask, demand and coach robustness in those stricken by trauma and criticise those who struggle in the face of it.
Some of the adults point at the young statistics sitting in the corner and acknowledge that there are various traumas inflicted on them that need addressing. Others say that the systems need to be more responsive.
Resilience, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t look poised and pretty, it looks like survival and survival is desperate. Yeah, you’re alive, but what kind of life is it? We play “desert island discs” or some iteration of it for fun, but who would actually want to be stranded on a desert island with nothing, and nobody but three records to play? What about all your other needs? All the things that keep you not just alive, but healthy, happy, mentally sound, connected, assured, growing, aspirational? When we want to “equip people” to “be resilient”, we’re removing quality of life from the equation. We’re giving them the “gift” of suffering, a “gift” we work our entire lives to avoid. Perhaps we’ve watched too many movies, and read too many feel-good stories about people who have “developed character through their suffering and become an inspiration to others and a credit to OUR society”… a credit to people like THEM. Not like us though. Us who have our creature comforts and salaries, good friends, loving families adoring colleagues. Us who work to ensure we can shield our children from the self-same suffering we cast these others into.
Some say that the issue facing young anecdotes is a lack of stable home environments. Others blame the lack of role models. Some point at poverty and a few raise the lack of opportunities outside of compulsory education.
Resilience in great great grandparents who survived the slave trade is how many are here to tell their own stories. Resilience is how many were able to return from war and somehow raise families. Resilience in grandparents who escaped the holocaust, famine, civil war, ethnic cleansing with nothing, with babies, with young children is how many have been able to fashion new lives in strange lands. Resilience is parents striving to provide for their children amid racism, xenophobia and procedural injustice, and those children believing that it is their job to constantly weather those storms.
The young tragic headlines aren’t asked for their opinions or input about the topic or their lived experiences. So they continue sitting.
The rhetoric around resilience permeates our society at all levels. We talk about proving grounds, trial by fire, furnace and crucibles. People are not bread or pieces of metal. We’re far more complex than that. Necessary elements of fragility are intertwined with our strength. Resilience is supposed to help us survive when things get bad, but that’s meant to be temporary. Things are supposed to get better. When we use these analogies to reduce people to simple materials for moulding and transmuting, we perpetuate a system where complex needs are ignored and actively exacerbated through societal and economic mechanisms. Crucibles are a great way to purify gold, but you put a person in fire, they burn. Burn a person for too long, the scars are visible, permanent, and also scar the mind. Longer still, and the fire will kill them. Resilience is merely proof of our fragility.
After much deliberation, the adults conclude that addressing all the challenges that young case studies face is too vast, arduous and expensive a task to attempt to tackle fully. There are some contingencies they can put in place, but the best solution by far is to create space and programmes to build resilience.
Forcing people into the position of constantly building and relying on their resilience is cruel. It is evidence of a level of inhumanity we don’t tolerate in pet owners. Our societal standards are questionable when our response to suffering is to put the onus on those suffering to remove themselves from the cause of said suffering. Our societal standards are questionable when our response is to question their desire to not suffer when they can’t remove themselves from that self same suffering. Did I say our societal standards are questionable? I meant that they’re non-existent. To look at people surviving in targeted oppression, societal exclusion, poverty, homelessness, domestic and communal violence, mental health crises, the list goes on, and demand they save themselves is reprehensible.
After all, resilience is what will make the young datasets independent, less reliant on their contingencies and less of a drain on limited resources.
We have people from western nations dedicated to disarming minefields in wartorn countries. Mines sold to them by the same countries that the disarmers come from. Yet in the twenty-first century where life is anything but straightforward, living comfortably isn’t seen as a right. We ignore the minefield of oppression, poverty, social exclusion, disenfranchisement, poor healthcare and so on, as problems to be solved and removed. We choose not to free those caught in the trap. We see them get caught in the minefield set for them, we see them struggling and losing and ask them why they’re there. We leave them to figure out their next step, knowing it might kill them, but as long as they don’t bleed on us, we’re okay with it.
The adults close the meeting and leave. The young people are told to leave by the custodian because the building is closing. They all walk out to their predetermined places in news stories and our collective unconscious.