The Art and Mystery of Resilience

The study is called the English and Romanian Adoptee (ERA) project. It is a longitudinal study that has been following a cohort of 165 children who were adopted from abysmal institutional conditions in Romania by families in the U.K. in the early 1990s. The goal of the study was to determine how well children could recover from distress and neglect in their early years when nurtured in a caring family environment in middle childhood.

The study has had far reaching implications on the way we think about human resilience. “To be able to follow these children longitudinally over so many years, and to track their progress and understand the influence and interaction of both their poor start and their later advantage, has transformed the understanding of child and adolescent development.” (Rutter, et. al, 2009)

While many children continued to struggle with emotional attachment, social integration, and cognitive development into their preteen years, the study prompted researchers to recognize and appreciate just how many of the adoptees made remarkable psychological recoveries. The ERA study sparked renewed interest in resiliency research, which explores the innate human capacity to overcome psychological barriers.

In her 2001 paper, Ordinary Magic: Resilience Processes in Development, Ann S. Masten writes, “What began as a quest to understand the extraordinary has revealed the power of the ordinary. Resilience does not come from rare and special qualities, but from the everyday magic of ordinary, normative human resources in the minds, brains, and bodies of children, in their families and relationships, and in their communities.” (Masten, 2001, p. 235)

You are, by nature of being a human, a terrifically resilient creature. You are built to bounce back from adverse experiences and to self-repair your emotional hardware when damaged by outside forces. “…resilience does not appear to require extraordinary talents or resources,” Masten later writes, “but instead depends on fundamental human adaptive systems.” (Masten, 2009, p. 32)

The message here is not that every person always recovers fully from atrocious experiences. No one disagrees or denies that abuse, neglect, and trauma can leave irreparable emotional, psychological, and physical damage in their wake. But the question is: how are so many people, even young children, able to overcome these terrific setbacks and forge better lives for themselves?

Today: 165 children adopted from abhorrent institutional conditions prompt us to consider — in perspective — our own resiliency. They invite us to be critical of assuming the role of the victim. Instead of curling up in the corner as tortured objects, they invite us to creatively live beyond our own trauma scars. Part of being human is ingeniously transcending the wounds and deficiencies of the past.


The Intelligentsia is Not Right/Wrong by Default

Rejecting a proposition solely on the grounds that it is the rhetoric of the regime sanctioned intelligentsia is not a compelling counterargument.

The refusal to entertain learning from outside of the academy is to prioritize an institutional process above the pursuit of knowledge.

The rightness, wrongness, or relevant validity of an idea is not a property that is inherently imputed on the basis of who originated it.

To write off an argument on the basis of who made it to make a judgment about a person or group, not a judgment about the argument itself.


Biopsychosocial: Just How Systemic Are You?

When you get sick, you go to the hospital. Once there, medical professionals examine your body, and they try to determine the best course of treatment to eliminate the condition.

Your visit to the hospital is the result of biomedicine: applying the science of molecular biology to healthcare. This biomedical model of treatment has revolutionized human life in the last few centuries. Surgeries, vaccinations, antibiotics, and other treatments have extended life expectancy and health in ways which were unimaginable even three or four generations ago.

However, in 1977 a psychiatrist named George Engel asked a question: does biomedicine adequately address all the factors that influence health and disease? Biomedicine, charged Engel, “leaves no room within its framework for the social, psychological, and behavioural dimensions of illness.” (Engel, 1977, p. 130) For example, if someone is living in a cold, damp, and mouldy apartment, does the biomedical model really address and treat their pneumonia? How are one’s social, economic, and relational issues not equally as important to consider when treating a person’s health? Furthermore, how could a person’s psychological wellbeing and behavioural decisions be ‘divorced’ from their molecular, biological health?

In summation, Engel argued that to effectively and holistically treat disease, the strict biomedical model was inadequate — the social and psychological conditions of a patient are too important to brush aside in order to focus on disease solely at the microscopic level of bacteria and viruses.

Engel thus suggested a new approach to medicine: he coined it the Biopsychosocial Model, “which includes the patient as well as the illness” (Ibid. 131). At the heart of the model was a simple assumption: you cannot think about a person’s mind, social conditions, and physical health in separate, unrelated compartments. Each factor is interconnected and influences the others. In contemporary terms, these three factors are referred to as the biological, cognitive, and socioemotional. (Santrock, 2007, p. 13)

Think about how stress affects your mind, which affects your choices, which affects your eating, which affects your health, which affects your mood, which affects your mind…
Think about how the conditions in which a child is raised affects their learning, which affects their schooling, which affects their income, which affects their living conditions, which affects their health, which affects their choices, which affects their learning…

The biopsychosocial model is a reminder that everything about your life is systemic: you, your body, your choices, and your environment are constantly influencing each other. In fact, to think of these as separate ‘entities’ is actually a little bit of make-believe. This means that every choice you make today has consequences. Do not think of today’s diet, housecleaning, reading list, work, and exercise in separate silos — each activity, in some way, impacts all the rest.


The Idea Discussion Group Idea

Photo by @joelcadams

Last night was pretty remarkable. About thirty thoughtful, brilliant, inquisitive, and respectful individuals gathered together to discuss the idea of starting a group to discuss ideas. Very meta, yes, but also very compelling. I kicked things off by sharing a brief, skeletal overview of the vision, and then the collective took over from there.

☞ If you would like to be a part of this group moving forward, or just want to follow along out of curiosity, sign up for this email list.

UPDATE: Here are my notes/followup from the discussion that followed: Next Steps for the ‘Idea Discussion Group’