Archive for July, 2011

Bouncing back from adversity

Posted: July 29, 2011 in Resilience
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During the recent June school holidays, I took off for 3 weeks to volunteer in a small seaside town called Otsuchi in Iwate prefecture in the north-east of Japan. Otsuchi was hit by a 20 metre tsunami in the March 11th earthquake and most of everything was washed off. As the vehicle trundled into the town, there were no buildings in sight. Just endless miles of NOTHING. Empty plots of land where houses and commerical buildings used to be and lots and lots of dust and debri. It seemed like someone had inadvertently dropped a nuclear bomb on the town and forgot to inform the residents to evacuate. So many people vanished, swallowed up by the sea, listed as ‘missing’.

Many who survived are living in this community centre sitting at the top of the hill overlooking what used to be a beautiful seaside town. It is in this community centre that I spent most of my time playing with children, making coffee (an ironic throwback to my time as a barista) and talking to the elderly folks, listening to their stories. Most of them escaped with only the clothes on their back. There was no time to pack…I wondered what it would be like if I no longer had any possessions except for the Muji polo tee and khakis I’m wearing now. At least it’s Muji.

All over the world people gave props to the Japanese for their resilience in the face of adversity. Resilience is not complicated…it’s about bouncing back from stuff and events that got you down. For the Otsuchi people it’s bouncing back from their grief of losing family and friends and their lost jobs and property however uncertain their future might seem. And there will always be people who bounce well and those who don’t the whys and hows of which would be the subject of another blog post.

We can’t control whether adversities happen to us. In fact some would say it’s not a matter of whether adversties could hit us but rather when. And these adversities could range from 20 metre tsunamis to repeatedly failing your math test, to breaking up with your long-term boy/girlfriend. We can’t control what sets us back, but we can control how we choose to respond to it. I say ‘choose’ because that’s really what it is…a choice that we can exercise. Sometimes the setback is so great and grievous we feel we can’t choose and that’s a perfectly normal human response as well. I have had my fair share of adversities some of which I bounce back from quickly and some of which left me feeling defeated and deflated. But as I look back (and of course with hind sight everything looks clearer) I have to admit I had choices to make and I didn’t always make wise ones. We can learn to make wiser choices, to respond to adversities in a way that is kinder to ourselves, we can learn to become more resilient. In a way, we kinda have to. (above picture taken with Mr Akasaki, town council member of Otsuchi. At least he escaped with his mobile phone!)