Cultivating versatility and resilience

11 Nov

A few more resources for educators, parents/guardians, youth… heck, for anyone who’s not just disappointed with “losing” this election, but emotionally, morally and socially anxious about what this election portends for the liberty and safety of all, not just some, people in the US.

  • Today’s Science Friday episode on NPR: “The Cure For Election-Related Stress? Believe Your Political Adversaries Can Change” with Kelly McGonigal, psychologist and researcher at the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism. Not only is it inaccurate that people’s attitudes and values don’t change, it goes against what many of us claim to believe–namely, that we shouldn’t stereotype (i.e. hold inflexible, fixed ideas about) other people.
  • The Stories That Bind Us” an article from The New York Times in 2013, that cites research from the Drs. Duke, psychologists who have studied resiliency in kids. In brief, their research demonstrates that “[t]he more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. The “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.” This turned out to be true with their original focus: children with learning disabilities, as well as their unexpected focus: children in the immediate wake of 9/11. (You can see a copy of the “Do You Know?” scale here.) My takeaways from the Duke’s research is that kids can better handle individual and collective stresses with knowledge of their people’s history and resilience. I take some latitude with the Dukes’ research and imagine that a child’s “people” includes concentric, overlapping circles of biological family, identity groups to which they belong (like religious or ethnic groups), and even nationality. It turns out that, given a context of love and support, knowledge of challenge, hardship and trauma may not be as harmful to our kids as ignorance of it. In other words, they’re not as fragile as we may imagine them to be, but as with other self-fulfilling prophecies, we can make them more fragile by treating them as if they are.

I am not by any means advocating that we unleash a torrent of unfiltered horror on kids. Rather, I’m trying to connect some dots: maybe the fixed ways we see “them” (in this case, those who don’t agree with us politically, or those who are terrorizing people of various minority identities right now–and if you’re like me, it’s hard to see the perpetrators of these violent words and actions in an open-minded way) is what makes it harder for us to talk to kids about conflict. If I can allow (or compel) myself to believe that someone who commits an act of racism, sexism or homophobia can grow and also act in anti-sexist, anti-homophobic and anti-racist ways, maybe I can talk about my fears, what happened and what we can do now with not just more performed confidence, but actual felt and believed confidence.

This may require asking myself why I may be choosing a narrative in which people are innately bigots and haters, over the truth that everyone can change. I think it’s scary to admit that there is no clear and hard line between evil them and good us: all of us can and do, in fact, do things that are homophobic, racist and sexist (if not through overt acts, then sometimes just through inaction, and other times through complicit, if subtle, permission). All of us can and do also act for social justice. And given the chance, we could do it more.

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