The R Word

I’m Winston Wolf, and I solve problems, is my favourite line from Pulp Fiction. I’ve used it in presentations on recovery. Break down a disaster, and at the heart of it, they are problems to be solved. Its why we nurses make good disaster managers, we manage a range of people’s problems, all at once, within a compressed time frames. And what we have is a disaster, the intersection of a hazard and a vulnerable community, and it overwhelming capacities to cope. This one is on a global scale.

I have heard a lot of talk about how we are a “resilient lot” or we should be more resilient in the face of adversity. The problem is, resilience is a bit of a loaded word, and like many terms with clear definitions and purposes, once they make it into the mainstream vernacular, they get applied widely, loosely, and lose their meaning. We tend to talk about resilience as a thing, rather than a dynamic state.

I think the challenge of applying resilience to what we are seeing, is there is an inherent flaw in basic definitions of resilience in the notion of being able to bounce back. Who knows where we are going to bounce, if at all, at the moment. A more nuanced definition will recognise the ability to cope or adapt in the face of adversity. Its still a hard thing to grasp. People don’t want to be called resilient when they aren’t feeling resilient.

There is also great suspicion about the concept of resilience in the disaster space, which is almost code for “you’re on your own”, or as the Juice Media team so eloquently described “Get Fucken Used to It” (Interestingly, this makes my title the National Get Fucken Used To It Adviser).

We’re seeing the full range of human behaviours play out in front of us, in prime time TV. These behaviours are always there, its just now, under adversity, the lid has been lifted and they are full show. And beside the bad stuff, we are seeing some amazing things happening, acts of kindness, sharing, caring. Is this resilience. It might be, but I think the behaviours we are seeing are more about resourcefulness.

At a very basic level, resourcefulness means being skillful or ingenious in overcoming adversity or quick and clever ways of overcoming difficulties with what is at hand.

Resourcefulness was recognised as one of the 4 Rs by MCEER in their resilience framework in the late 90s, defining resourcefulness as the ability to mobilise resources quickly to apply to disaster problems. This is a fairly linear definition which tends to suggest if you have enough of everything, you will fix it. In our current emergency, we won’t have enough to “fix it”, we have to do things differently, and creatively.

We’re seeing the resourcefulness of people already. The Italians on the balconies, the phone calls through windows to elderly people, the sharing of contacts in streets and help. In Hurricane Sandy in New York, a teenager set up a charging station outside their house (which still had power) so people could come to charge their phones. When the London Bombings happened, people bought bikes and rode them home. The dance videos coming out of china. One of my favourites is the guy who puts dishwashing detergent on his floor to make it slippery, so he can use it as a treadmill.

How do we build or make resourcefulness? It starts early, with unstructured play. This gives kids scope and room to explore different options. I’ve also heard being bilingual is helpful to problem solving. This is not overly helpful in the current climate, but worth being mindful of. But when people have time on their hands, solve puzzles or play strategy games. Take something apart and put it back together again (maybe not something electrical). Strategise. Use the 5 whys to find cause and effect, helps to understand the root of things. Try to relate the problem to something else you or someone may have experienced. Give an old person a ring, and ask them. They’ve seen a lot in their lives, and may have some tips for problem solving.

In the end resourcefulness is really about being clever, using what is at hand, solving problems, and, I think, being kind.

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