Persist, connect, adapt to build resiliency

By Barbara Gutierrez

Persist, connect, adapt to build resiliency

By Barbara Gutierrez
Members of the University of Miami community share their ideas on how to persevere during the pandemic.

The holiday season is a time for reflection. As we celebrate Thanksgiving and look ahead to the other joyful holidays of the season (albeit celebrated very differently from years past), we often look back at the year to take stock on what transpired.

The year 2020 has not been an easy one. The pandemic has killed hundreds of thousands, a fractured country is grappling with an unprecedented presidential election, there has been racial reckoning and civil unrest, and we have seen the ravages of climate change in wildfires and hurricanes that have wiped out communities and devastated already impoverished regions.

The list seems endless.

If we focus on the negative, all is doom and gloom. But this season can also be a time of renewal.

In the following commentary, members of the University of Miami community share how we can build resiliency, especially during a pandemic. Some chose to reflect on how to do this on a personal level; others tied it to their professions.

Beatrice Skokan, head of manuscripts and archives, curator of Caribbean Collections, subject liaison for French Language and Literature, University of Miami Libraries:

“I believe that I share the experience of many South Florida residents who have had to migrate from their family’s country of origin because of political and economic strife. As the survivors of those experiences will attest, one does not get through such an experience without resiliency. My own story, and that of others whom I have had the privilege to listen to, connects resiliency to a sense of belonging.

In times of adversity, being able to stay connected with a community of family, friends, colleagues, and even complete strangers that you see at the grocery store or at your bus stop can protect a person from adversity.

The pandemic has been especially challenging since it prevented in-person interactions. Nevertheless, I have seen an almost immediate shift in our country to find new ways to stay connected via technology with check-in phone calls, videos, supportive social media (they do exist), and common courtesy while physical distancing. These kind and gracious gestures by average people are quiet, and they will not make the headlines. We just have to remember that there is hope in staying connected to each other.”

Sonia Chao, associate professor, School of Architecture:

“The coronavirus has laid bare how different communities are more vulnerable than others. It has shown us how our social resilience is tied to our building and community resilience.

Specific neighborhoods are specifically struggling, and these were clearly neighborhoods with a high number of Black and Hispanic residents. Many of these residents have jobs that require them to go outside the home and extended family units.

We are also seeing a flight from the areas with high-rise buildings and a lot of people packed into one space. People are moving to the suburbs, buying homes where they have other amenities—such as being able to walk outside, have a private garden, and feel safer being outside.

In the 20th century, during the Spanish flu, cities were rethought because people felt that it was healthier to live in bigger spaces.

Resiliency is built on a larger series of intersecting aspects of a city and this has to do with social and racial equity. For example, there are issues on how we create housing opportunities for all in our community, not just in segregated pockets, and how we deal with transportation and make it viable for everyone, while at the same time we reduce our carbon imprint.

There are a series of different aspects that have to do with the longer-term vision of resilience. A lot of what we are seeing now are indicators of how certain pockets of our community are not resilient and how we have to address that reality.

There are lessons to be drawn from this virus. We are seeing the virus bring to our attention that there are areas in our community that are very vulnerable and we have to address that sooner rather than later because we know that members in that community are very important to our overall resilience.”

David Steinberg, associate professor of professional practice, School of Communication:

Resilience is the ability to endure challenges and hardships, to adapt to unforeseen difficulties and barriers, and to grow and develop through the experience of facing and overcoming adversity. It enables us to overcome tragedy, discomfort, disappointment and stress, and come out stronger, happier, and more capable. It is intrinsic to the human experience, but it must be learned and developed. Like our homes in South Florida, we must have the strength and flexibility to withstand the inevitable storms. 

Of course, resilience does not come easy. How do we empower ourselves to endure? This skill set is built upon self-confidence and self-esteem.

  1. Communicate and be close to those who will boost your feelings of self. Begin with your network, connect with others, and prioritize relationships. This means reaching out to family, friends, and loved ones, and joining groups and developing relationships.
  2. Be productive. Congratulate yourself for your accomplishments and be generous in defining them. Some days getting out of bed is worthy of merit. Set goals for each day, week, and month, make sure some of them are easy, some not so much. Check them off and remind yourself of these successes.
  3. Have purpose. Think of what you value and make action plans to achieve it. Learn new things, do new things, and find ways to serve others. Plan for the future and look forward to it.
  4. Perform at least two acts of random kindness every day: one for someone else, one for yourself. And be sure to be kind to yourself. Do something healthy you enjoy, take a walk, go fishing, sing along with a favorite song.
  5. If you need help, seek help. Accepting help is a sign of strength and will help create the flexibility and support needed to be resilient.

Our path is seldom a straight line, the upward curve rarely smooth. And the switchbacks of the crooked path or the downward spikes in the upward trends can cause us intense trauma and distress. It is not the curves and bumps that will define us, but how we navigate them.”

Scott Rogers, director of Mindfulness in Law Program and Lecturer in Law, School of Law:

“One of the keys to resilience is seeing things more clearly. We can find ourselves riding a roller coaster of emotion with twists and turns set in motion by our interpretation of events—the story we tell ourselves about what happened, why it happened, and what will happen next. It can feel like more than we can bear, because we are bearing more than is, in fact, there. We have all made it thus far in life, an important reminder that we have what it takes to survive and thrive.

We can experience less emotions that overwhelm and bounce back more readily by learning to catch ourselves catastrophizing and anticipating worst case scenarios, or assuming the worst of people. Because we readily identify with and accept our thoughts as true, it can be helpful to realize when an unhelpful narrative may be unfolding. Early warning signs can consist of unpleasant sensations in the body. Through greater mindful awareness (and practice) we notice these signals sooner and can greet them with a two-step pivot by which we (1) ground ourselves more fully in the body and (2) see more clearly the unexamined assumptions and judgments arising in the mind. One approach is to take a few slower, deeper breaths, as this can help counteract the mounting tension in the body, and then become interested and curious about the story we are telling ourselves in that moment. Even posing the straightforward question, ‘Is this the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?’ can be a source of relief, and a much needed dose of reality.”

Charles Eckman, dean and University Librarian, University Libraries:

“Building resilience in memory organizations such as libraries is an important and complex goal. Doing this work at the same time our co-workers, research colleagues, and community partners are experiencing considerable stress due to social, political, and economic tension and the inability to connect in person with each other on a regular basis is an extraordinary challenge. Creating stronger and informal personal bonds is an essential element in addressing our resilience agenda. We are tackling these challenges in small ways through use of monthly town halls that involve breakout discussion groups, virtual coffee breaks, and encouraging attendance at online library and UM events including UML’s weekly mindfulness sessions.”