COVID-19 Pandemic

Stories of Resilience in the Face of COVID-19: Part Two

By Phil Basso    April 2020

So what is resilience anyway? A few years back, APHSA and a team of our partners developed a model that identifies the skills and attributes that, together, support resilience in the face of crisis or adversity. We scanned research from various contexts including health care, human services, sex trafficking, and the military, and found highly consistent references to a set of 10 resilience drivers. So, resilience is in one sense the general capacity to bounce forward from adversity, and in another sense it’s the sum capacity of these underlying drivers.

In the spirit of “show not tell,” here are the drivers with some examples that I’ve witnessed recently:

  1. Accessing social supports and role models. My son, the ex-Marine, doesn’t frequently check in these days—he’s 25 and has a lot going on other than playing Fortnight. But he was recently furloughed from his job at the gym and his last course requirement before enrolling in the DC Police Academy was cancelled. Let’s just say I’m hearing from him a lot more now, and it’s a good thing for him to be reaching out.
  2. Optimism balanced by realism. A teen leaders’ group I know was recently asked to describe the hardships their community is facing, and they were quick to note things like drugs, mental illness, suicide, homelessness, and violence. A moment later they were asked to describe their community’s strengths, and just as clearly, they outlined talking together, family bonds, putting money into perspective, information sharing, creativity, love and support, and values like kindness and generosity. The final item noted was “knowing we can all come together as one community.”
  3. Faith in something larger than one’s self. There’s an innovations leader in a large agency who asked me years ago if we could have calls together every month or two. Not to work on something specific, but to “zoom out” from our daily and short-term to dos and share emerging ideas and imaginings that comprehend the big picture and project the field forward a decade into the future. Some of our conversations have translated into real work priorities and innovations, and I’ve set up similar calls each month with other thought leaders.
  4. A sense of meaning, morality, and ethics. I’m working directly with a community-based improvement team that uses its lived values as its team name. Those values include being solutions focused, having honest conversations, having a real impact, and dreaming big. And their community objectives include influencing the larger environment to adopt its core values, versus the other way around.
  5. Reframing circumstances and events as constructive and instructive. My first COVID-19 blog post captured this one, describing an agency project team pivoting on its own from an invitation to share negative feelings to a set of innovations—staff and funding flexibility, virtual service platforms, discovering inequities through mapping a community’s assets and service protocols, and deeper partnership development. I’ve subsequently heard of a few more examples along these lines.
  6. Problem-solving skills. My sister and brother-in-law are educators with three young children who are each a handful. They set up a learning center in their basement, have each child take the spotlight at different times during the “school day,” and use Zoom to stay in touch with family and the kids’ friends. My niece just had her 5th birthday party online and it was great. My favorite problem-solving strategy they’ve invented is “delayed openings for faculty prep” when they’ve had a late night.
  7. Facing and overcoming fears. My mom is 83, also an educator, and losing her memory, though I don’t mind reintroducing her to who all’s in our family. When she first noticed the changes a few years ago, she was anxious and at times pretty depressed. Still entirely lucid today, my mom’s current hobbies include reading everything in her library again, filling up coloring books with her 36 colored pencils, and dancing in the senior living center’s dining hall. She’s at peace with who she is and what she can and cannot do these days.
  8. Forgiveness. My neighbor Harry is a Vietnam veteran, who tells vivid stories of the hardships he experienced there as a grunt rifleman on the front lines. When asked what he thought about the military and civilian leadership at the time, he’s pretty harsh, even for someone who lived each day swearing as a normal pattern of speech. But when asked if he’s bitter about how he was impacted, he shrugs it off with a smile. Harry is our Homeowner’s Association President and helps everyone around here find common ground.
  9. A sense of humor. The APHSA staff team holds monthly virtual all-staff meetings as well as quick, weekly check-in calls with the entire team, and frequent calls amongst the supervisors. To say these calls move back and forth from on point informational to refreshingly bawdy and playful would be about right. I look at myself on the Zoom or Team screen and am usually smiling way too much.
  10. Brain fitness, physical fitness, and stress management. Each day my wife, son, and I head to the local park to play there for an hour. First, the ageless basketball game HORSE, taking turns selecting shots we can make and hoping the others miss until a winner emerges. We laugh and chide one another, and our shooting skills have actually improved. Next, we run around the court ten times, practice making accurate passes, and share the ball until one of us makes the game-winning shot. Then we run the soccer field eight times and focus on dribbling and passing until one of us hits a boomer-bender into the top of the net.  

A couple of final thoughts. Trauma in high dose and duration negatively impacts the brain, period. Yet various forms of hardship, adversity, and stress present opportunities for engaging individuals, families, organizations, and whole communities in the reflection, improvement, and growth that comes from the challenges that result. We welcome both your own stories of resilience as well as any idea you have for an 11th and 12th resilience driver. Thanks for all you do!

About the Author

Phil Basso (full bio)

Director, Organizational Effectiveness
American Public Human Services Association

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