April 18, 2014

Boston sunset

How do we bounce back from crisis? Credit: Noukka Signe / Flickr Creative Commons

We hear the word crisis, and images flash in our brains: first responders, sirens, tears and screams, headlines on the news. And we feel that nothing will ever be the same.

One year after the Boston Marathon bombings that shook the city — and the rest of the country — we're still recovering. And it turns out that the immediate response to a crisis is only one small piece of resilience, whether at the individual or national level.

"Resilience is the ability to function with integrity under the widest variety of  circumstances," explains Andrew Zolli, author of "Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back." "It's about the ability to persist, recover or thrive amid disruption. That story happens at every scale – with us as individuals, within families, at the community level."

Zolli grew up in Boston, and happened to be in town the night that the city was shut down.

"What happens in the wake of a disruption like that," he adds, is that "people are drawn together. In-group identity goes way up — you saw that reflected in things like Boston Strong. And also there's a sense of people punishing dissent within the group — and that process is what drove the incredible compliance with the shutdown."

Researchers have found that four main elements contribute to the strength of resilience: a person's (or city's) regenerative capacity; the ability to listen for change that might be coming; the immediate response to a disruption; and the ease with which we are able to learn and transform as a result.

He also notes that some strife can be a good thing for either the individual or community, and working those mental muscles is a little bit like going to the gym.

"People who have experienced no major life trauma are relatively irresilient," says Zolli. "[One of] the lasting effects of this terrible catastrophe is that at the city level, the experience of a disruption like this actually might strengthen certain parts of our muscles."

He continues, "it's a terrible price to pay — the pain and suffering of the people directly affected is obviously immeasurable and can't be understated — but this is a  little bit of the mechanics of that famous saying 'What doesn't kill us, makes us stronger.'"

Want to know more? Listen to the full show, above.

Body & Mind, Culture, the Takeaway, resilience, Boston Marathon bombings, Andrew Zolli, crisis, Kara Miller

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