Last week I spent half a day with a group of incredibly positive, entrepreneurial, welcoming and friendly women. Nothing unusual about that you might say? Well, no, except that this was in a community house in North Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo and all of these women were victims of Gender Based and Sexual Violence (which is a polite NGO way of saying that they had all been raped by (groups of) soldiers or men in their community. Some had as many as 10 children, all were desperately poor. And yet.
Knowing their background it was impossible to leave the house without being inspired and moved by their strength, their joy and their resilience. I think of resilience as the capacity to bounce back from hardship or setback and in those terms these ladies of Wamama Simameni are a NASA space launch to my one-legged hop!
Experiencing such extraordinary resilience has got me thinking a great deal about personal and organisation resilience. It seems to me that all our wealth, all our personal safety and secure middle class ‘first world’ lives can leave us seriously lacking in resilience. We are prone to fall in a heap when faced with setbacks. Now I totally get that having slightly less resilience (or even a lot less resilience) is a small price to pay for avoiding gang rape and poverty, but I do think that we, or certainly I, have much to learn and develop in this area.
There is a reasonably large body of literature on the topic of resilience, but let me offer some thoughts I gleaned from Dan Pink, writing in “To Sell Is Human” about being a successful salesperson. We increase the likelihood of bouncing back from hardship if we train ourselves to avoid thinking 3 things about setbacks:
1. It’s Personal - no not necessarily! Much of what happens to us is not in the first instance about us. People hurt us for all kinds of reasons, most of which have to do with their own evil and failings
2. It’s Pervasive - no, just because we are suffering or hurting in one area does not mean that all of our life is now damaged. We need to limit our perception of the setback to the areas of our life it truly effects.
3. It’s Permanent - no, most likely it is not permanent. Things will get better. We do heal. We do move on. We do recover. We are not eternal victims.
So there you have it. These women of the DRC epitomise this mindset. The challenge now is to learn from them and train this mindset and capacity in ourselves.