How can each person deal with the layers of complexity and chaos in our global society? We are dealing with a phenomenon that is affecting us globally, however we each live in a different part of the globe, in countries and even regions of countries that are affected somewhat differently, and the leaders of each place choose to deal with the problem and its consequences in different ways. People are talking about restoration, when we may be still in the midst of destruction. Leaders struggle with issuing orders of restriction or opening up of the movement of people and the economy. Often pretending to fight the pandemic, but actually using it for political survival. In some cases making vaccination a sign of caring, in other places making it available to a select few. Regardless of that, there are some who prefer their own freedom of choice to responsibility for the collective. Each individual has to be responsible for doing the restoration work for themselves. Even so, even if we each do our own work to create healthy relationships, minding our personal wellbeing and learning how to relate with respect to each other, we need to remember that we are part of a global, or at least local, country- or region-wide harmony. If we indeed want to create a harmony, we need to form an orchestra. As in any good orchestra, where the individual players are each trained in their own instrument, there is a need for a conductor to lead it. The same orchestra will play a piece differently with different conductors. How do we learn to choose the right conductor for a particular place and time?
Psychologist Viktor Frankl in his book Man’s Search for Meaning (1946) states that the response to unavoidable suffering is one of the primary sources in our lives of meaning, purpose, and self-efficacy. Suffering and difficulty must never be hidden from us. So, we should look for a conductor, a leader who is truthful, open, and not afraid to share difficult situations. Sydney Banks, the Canadian philosopher and originator of The Three Principles of Mind, Consciousness and Thought, once said, “If the only thing people learned was not to be afraid of their experience, that alone would change the world.” Research by George Bonanno, professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University, supports the notion that resilience, not recovery, is a common response to difficult life events such as trauma and loss. The research of Marcus Buckingham, head of people and performance research at the ADP Research Institute, suggests that the same applies to you and me. It’s the unknown that scares us. Show us the truth about our threats, and we will reveal the true reserves of our power. Again, the way we play in the orchestra of life depends on the conductor. The problem is that sometimes there are not too many choices, and even when there are, we may not have the skills to evaluate which one will bring out the best in us. Even in a good democracy, our choice depends on the availability of quality conductors.
If it were up to me, my choice would actually be a good swim coach. I guess the idea stems from the fact that the swimming pool in my city is finally open, and I am able to swim again. My resilience is boosted by returning into water. We all start life in the womb – a safe container engulfed by water.
We develop, learn to swim freely, and sense the world from within our watery environment. We feel the music of the heart beating in our mother, sense her mood, her joy and sorrow, totally immersed in her womb. It is actually fairly traumatic to leave that world. For me returning to water, to a pool or to the sea, has always been a way to build my resilience. Swimming became a way to cope with adversities in my life. I learned to swim when I was 5 years old in order to overcome the challenges of a congenitally dislocated hip. It helped my self-image, providing a feeling of accomplishment and a feeling of ability rather than disability. The ability to swim and the feeling of safety and freedom in the water helped me to survive and strive all my life. My body actually screams at me if I am not able to swim most days of the week. This is the only physical activity that keeps me from becoming an invalid. When I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis almost 30 years ago, I chose to learn the truth, to learn coping strategies, to accept the limitations, and to embrace resilience. There were no medications available to treat my condition at that time. I needed to make sure my body got the best chance to survive with least damage. Naturally, I resorted to swimming as well as nutrition, in order to take care of myself to the best of my ability. For the last 12 years I have been fortunate enough to be able to take advantage of a drug which is injected weekly and enables me to function. But without the swimming, I am convinced that my body, and my sanity, would be greatly challenged.
The ADP Research Institute conducted two field studies to determine what resilience is and how it can be developed by individuals and society. Two key findings from 250,000 respondents from different countries were:
The implication for leaders: do not sugar-coat harsh reality. Tell people the truth about threats, and they will respond with resilience. It is far more frightening, and damaging to the psyche, to downplay tough or dark realities, or to pretend they don’t exist, because then we allow our imaginations to run riot, and who knows what kind of demons we may conjure in our mind’s eye.
Each of us develops his or her own resilience and the ability to cope with adversities in a way that suits his/her personality and circumstances. When we use any form of physical activity, creative activities of painting, playing music, writing, mindfulness practices, gardening, cooking, or playing, we boost our resilience in a way that fits us. A good leader knows how to encourage each person to use their special strengths and to perform as part of a team. She is a leader who encourages connections and collective responsibility in the team. Her moto is one for all and all for one. As I mentioned above, this is the same quality that is needed in a good orchestra conductor. The individual musicians have each their own strengths and abilities. Their resilience comes from the knowledge that they can use their instrument to produce a beautiful connection with another human being through sound. It is the conductor who gives form to and creates a collective sound out of the individual performances of the various instruments.
Unfortunately, there is no good swim coach, conductor, or even chef who is running for the leadership of my country in the upcoming elections. I may have to choose the leader who will do the least damage to our democracy and to the harmonious playing or coordinated swimming in the murky waters of our current existence.