The Political Case for Teaching Resilience

Are we a nation who believes in the spirit and heart of each person, or a group of people exclusively dependent on our circumstances? The answer has enormous consequences on the direction, livelihood, and well-being of individuals and families.

If you believe the polls, we as a nation are leaning more and more to believing in external circumstances, and that they have to be provided before we can succeed. Welfare, entitlements, and safety nets. The number of disability claims has skyrocketed over the last few years, and the time until young adult COLLEGE GRADUATES find a job is sobering. We are less and less shocked by polls like the one by the Wall Street Journal/NBC, which found that only 14% of all Americans believe that their children’s future will be brighter than their own. Whatever happened to the American Dream?

As a parent, I easily resonate with the negative polling and emotions that exist. There is plenty of blame to spread around, and no doubt each of you already have an opinion about who is at fault. Despite the vast gap in ideology between Republicans and Democrats, Liberals and Conservatives, is there a place in the middle where we can agree?

First, I am not a political expert, and as the old adage goes, I don’t play one on TV. But I do know quite a bit about how to transition individual hopelessness into helping a person develop their greatest potential. It is from that perspective and expertise I share my general proposal.

Conservatives are primarily interested in small government, meaning minimal intrusion on their lives. Conservatives usually point to the impact of faith and family. Liberals are more likely than Conservatives to point out injustices, including discrimination and poverty, that certain groups experience. They are also more likely than Conservatives to believe that government is a positive resource for teaching certain values or carrying out social services.

Each side, I propose, can have a major impact on improving the lives of individuals, families, and communities. I believe the central message that each side could promote is that of “resilience.” Conservatives can definitely improve on delivering a positive message, one of hope and prosperity, and call upon parents and families to improve the resilience of their children. They can do better at showing families how to do this, rather than finger-pointing at others. Liberals can definitely improve on their ability to help individuals recognize that their future depends more and more on their own choices, whether (actually especially IF) those government resources are available or not. Liberals have had the greatest political power for nearly a decade, and it’s time they held themselves more accountable rather than blaming Republicans.

The topic of theme of “resilience” has gained a great deal of attention in the literature, including self-help books, but its focus has primarily been upon how to help veterans with PTSD or helping youth from traumatic childhood backgrounds. I applaud these efforts, but given the pessimism and general belief that our lives and prosperity are completely in the hands of the current economy, President, or world affairs proves that We The People need the message in a more global way.

When I say the word “resilience,” many people think “happy” or high self-esteem. It is neither.

Happiness and self-esteem are both fleeting, and despite billions of dollars, in medicine, research, and welfare programs, neither of these two has improved. Matter of fact, in many ways those programs and resources have backfired. In the 60’s and since, the government had been trying to improve the self-esteem among drug users, assuming that low self-esteem causes drug use. Decades of interventions have led to greater self-esteem, but not lower drug use. In essence, we have drug users with “high” self-esteem.

Resilience is about being emotionally intelligent. It is being able to have commitment, resolve, and the fortitude to bounce back from difficult times. There are many ways we can pass that on to the next generation, but usually not if we haven’t developed those characteristics ourselves. We are taught less and less about the Depression, but those individuals developed resilience, and if they can, we can also. Regardless of your political ideology, I encourage you to focus more of your time and effort on building resilience in those you serve, lead, and guide.

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