Our world seems to be getting faster and faster, with more and more stress and pressure being applied to us all. With so much stress – and the continuing emergence of crisis – how do we build resilience in our communities, so that together we can face the bigger pressures and help each other? How do we help our communities to ‘spring back’ or ‘spring forward’ with resilience in response to stress or change?
In previous posts, I have discussed resilience in individuals, teams and organisations. However, resilience spreads beyond the ‘working world’ into the broader communities in which we exist. We can read in the newspapers about how we are constantly under threat – weather, fire, floods, changes in economic conditions, unemployment, food, water and climate issues, war, terrorism, economic downturn and technological change.
Our circumstances are always changing, and it seems that are always under constant stress (and often in some form of crisis). How do we stand together, in our communities, and bounce back or bounce forward (transformative resilience) when we need to?
A community is any group that can define itself by its self-identification and categorisation. People identify themselves as part of the community by some characteristic (location, profession, belief or core value, for example), and the community accepts them as part of their ‘in group’. We have local communities, church communities, communities that spring up around sports clubs, charities, and even professional communities (lawyers, accountants, HR professionals).
In the digital age, we also have our online communities in Linkedin and Facebook, for example.
As a rule, communities usually cope poorly in crisis. Often, what happens under stress is an ‘each man for himself’ approach. This is totally understandable – as a defensive response, individuals pull back into smaller groups or just individuals and try and ‘survive’ the crisis, using their resources first and foremost for their survival.
This suggests that the common response to crisis is for communities to break down into individuals, and resilience is really about recovery. The community is therefore not resilient, but just reforms once the survivors can stop being concerned only with looking after themselves.
Because in good times, it is easy to care. In hard times, it is easy to withdraw.
Resilience in community systems can therefore be seen as a shared concept. How a community manages to deal with changing context and stress can be seen in the response of the community to itself, and its members. A community with resilience will seek to ensure that the whole community adapts to the new context, and doesn’t leave anyone behind. A community stops being a community when those who can evolve leave others behind.
The first people to get left behind in a community are often its most vulnerable. The community contracts inwards and those who can least afford to be left behind are marginalised further.
I would like to suggest something a little different (and maybe radical). A measure of the resilience of a community is how it deals with those at its margins under times of stress and crisis. We could almost define a community’s resilience by the amount of the contraction of ‘concern’ for those at the margins – the most vulnerable in the community who may be the least likely to cope.
Given that we are under constant ‘threat’, we can see in our communities people at the margins who are highly vulnerable getting left behind – suggesting that we are not very resilient. We love to talk in Australia about ‘mateship’ and looking after ‘the little person’, but truth be told, under a small amount of constant threat, most communities become xenophobic, inward looking and insular.
Think of the treatment of refugees, the elderly, mentally ill or the homeless in our ‘communities’.
It all seems a bit hopeless, but is there a better way?
I believe that we can build resilient communities that do better at looking after those at their margins and that can help each other through stress and crisis. We can do this by:
- Developing resilience in individuals, through identifying the skills of resilience and coaching people to use and share these skills across a range of circumstances with those on their communities. We can help all of the members of the community learn the skills of resilience and put them into practice.
- Promote leaders who demonstrate resilience. Leaders of communities are the most visible and salient members of these communities, and often their actions set the standards for the rest of the community to follow. This is especially true in crisis, when uncertainty and fear increase and the members of the community look to the leaders for certainty, consistency and direction.
- Making the effort to define communities and the people at their margins as connected and unified as part of the one community. This makes a big difference, because when we are connected to the most vulnerable in our community, we are forced to CARE. When we see them as like us, we can’t just run away. They are personally connected, and part of our in-group. On the other hand, creating ‘us and them’ opportunities through labels, blame and misunderstanding of marginalised members of the community makes it easy to shrug them off when things get tough.
- Developing cultures in our communities where we honour and value caring, sharing, community and resilience. The old Australian value of ‘mateship’ has weakened with the rise of the ‘me, me, me’ culture. The development of culture comes down to conscious choices on design, structure and processes, the stories we tell, the rituals we enact and the heroes we honour. Defining what is honourable as important, rather than what you ‘have’, sets up a cultural platform that reinforces community over individualism.
- Creating the stories and the heroes around community resilience and purpose. Who does your community hold up as being a hero? The guy in the fancy car that smashes and grabs, or the people who make a difference to those who cannot help themselves? The way we report on and tell stories within the community makes a big difference. Current affairs TV shows that peddle fear, division and comparison work to undermine community resilience.
- Ensuring that we develop a culture of support – where we support each other and learn to ask for help when we need it. Developing a habit of sharing and reciprocity can make a significant difference to communities when times get tough. When we promote the idea that people should ‘toughen up’, we stop them asking for help. When we ask for help, we build a network of support within the community which empowers resilience.
- Identifying and understanding the threats, stresses and potential crises the community may face – and what the community response will be. Sharing the plans and training the responses to help provide the skills and certainties to deal with crisis more effectively and efficiently can make a big difference. If part of the process of responding to crisis is a planned response which includes helping others (“Are you OK” campaign, checking on the neighbours, etc.), then the community is likely to be more resilient. Developing habits around these cultural pillars serves to strengthen our communities. By recognising threats that may occur, we can act together now as communities and work to avoid them. If we believe the community is valuable, we can take pre-emptive action to protect our definition of the community before stresses and crisis pressure it to break down.
- Helping those at the margins of our communities also makes us more resilient. As we help those at our margins, they become more capable, skilled and resilient. They are able to contribute more and make the whole community more resilient as well, and contribute to resolution of any crisis: When stresses or crisis arrive, they are more capable of participating in the overall response, and being included in the community as it moves through the stress and change, rather than either slowing the response down, absorbing resources, or being left behind.
Therefore, by assisting those at the margins of our communities to be more capable and resilient, we enhance the overall resilience of the entire community.
I believe I am part of a global community, where we are all ‘in it together’ as we face challenges from our environment, or those which we create.
We have so many people at our ‘margins’. Whilst it is easy to believe that we are not connected to them, because they look different, speak different languages, live in different places or believe in different things, we are all a part of something bigger. Finding ways to help those at our margins, that are less fortunate or more vulnerable, strengthens us all and makes us, as a global community, more resilient.
We can all find our own way, either directly or indirectly, to help our community be more resilient from the inside out – and from the outside in.
Through using B1G1 micro-giving, I have implemented a system where those at the margins are not left behind – so far I have made about 350,000 micro giving donations, (to food, water, education and development projects) – which means I have impacted and supported this many people at the margins of society, based upon diverting a percentage of revenue from my business .
As they become more capable and individually resilient, so does the rest of the global community. We improve our ability to adapt, to face threat, to work together and achieve more and overcome crises as they occur. As they become capable of playing their bigger games, they create more space for everyone else to do so as well.
We all belong to many different communities.
How resilient are your communities?
What can be done to make them more resilient?
What happens to the vulnerable and marginalised in your community when things get tough?