I don’t know how a parent teaches resilience to their children, except by some sort of example. We’re pretty sure that ours have seen enough situations where we’re down, struggling, and have somehow managed to get back up on our feet and try again. Let’s say rather that we’ve certainly felt we’ve had our share of that kind of situation.
The worst of our family stories in that ilk have to do with betrayal, however, and that makes resilience that much harder. It’s all very well to get knocked back in a far contest, but when the cards are stacked against you and your attempt was meaningless in context, it’s so hard to recover your equilibrium. One of the things about mentors is that they have this tendency to besmirch the high regard that their protégés might have for them. And then, that’s when you realise that the game is more about self-serving advancement than it is about altruistic assistance.
I hope that resilience at that point doesn’t need to wear a revenge motif. A sense that you must get even can become embittering, and then debilitating, can’t it. Better to be more equanimous, I guess, to dust yourself off, recognise the frailty of the teaching relationship, and then, suitably forewarned and fore-armed, to forge your own way. That way, perhaps, you’re more likely to enjoy the journey and incidentally to become a better mentor yourself, one day.
In fact, it’s a blessing if you don’t have to start from the bottom again, if you’re knocked back. Many situations like that are just overwhelming, and the very idea of resilience seems laughable. But if you’ve got this sort of emotional and physical reserve capacity, so that you’re picking yourself up from further along the way than you’d been a couple of years ago say, then you can say well, that’s not so bad.
I guess mountaineers trying for the next hand or foot hold, on a sheer rock face, do this sort of strategy, pinning a piton deep into the point they’ve reached before grappling and missing the next. As they swing over the void, safety rope doing its job, they can tell themselves: I can try that again. The place of safety contributes to the courage of resilience.
And that’s my take on the whole continuing gift of resilience, that once safety positions are established, forays onward that meet with momentary failure can be consigned to the experience file, and another attempt assayed with renewed determination.
This take is surely why the aphorism that failure makes one stronger has such resonance. But I reserve my greatest wonder at those whose attempts send them crashing down the mountainside, and who yet are able to find the wherewithal to get up and try again. Those folks must affirm that what doesn’t kill them makes them better, but what a hard road to travel, and the risk might feel too much to bear.
Give us resilience from a place of safety, any day then: a combination of diligent endeavour, a plateau of accomplishment, and a further adventure into the unknown.
Frankly, that’s how I’m living my own writer’s journey, and still loving the road.