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  • Bill Petrie

Developing Resilience in an Uncertain World - Part 1

I have been feeling ever more uncertain about the future of South Africa and I - like so many of my friends and my clients - have felt increasingly anxious and insecure, even angry and overwhelmed. None of this, of course, has helped! So, I have made it a mission to discover what does help and I'll write about what I discover each week as I go along. Now none of this will be political. Instead, I will be writing about how we can develop greater resilience in this changing and uncertain environment. Something that helps me a great deal is the wisdom of the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr who wrote what came to be known as the serenity prayer. At that time - during the enormous difficulties of the great depression in the 1930's - he wrote: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.” Whether or not you believe in God, the wisdom in this prayer is profound. Unfortunately, most of us do not even begin to accept the things we cannot change. Instead we exclaim:

  • ‘But, it shouldn’t be happening like this’

  • ‘But, how can they do that!’

  • ‘How dare they do that!’

  • ‘They can’t do that!’

But it does no good because it is happening as it is and those that do what they are doing both dare and are doing what they are doing. Change and uncertainty have always been part of life and we need to learn how to accept that. And, if we learn to accept that, then we can turn our attention to those things that we can actually change. And, very often, the things that we can change are ourselves. It is infinitely easier to change ourselves than it is to try and change the world. And, there is resilience in this realisation. Accepting the things that we cannot change we come to realise that: • We are not helpless • We do have choices • And, we need to exercise those choices My choice - for now - is not to leave the country of my birth but to learn to develop greater resilience while living in it. Such a decision is an empowered position and this sense of empowerment is important because - in difficult times - it's all too easy to fall into a sense of helplessness. And, getting stuck in a feeling of helplessness is profoundly unhelpful. Firstly, if we allow ourselves to feel helpless, we become prone to depression. And, if we become depressed we tend to develop:

  • low levels of energy

  • poor motivation

  • poor concentration

  • poor memory

  • negative attitude towards ourselves, our lives and towards the future.

And that doesn't help us deal with the situation at all. The other possible negative consequence of feeling helpless is that we may begin to see ourselves as victims. And, if we see ourselves as victims, it all becomes 'their' fault and we take all agency and responsibility away from ourselves thus increasing our sense of helplessness. I would argue that the only reasonable resilient position is one that accepts the reality of the moment - knowing there is no alternative reality. Then, knowing that reality, we are then able go on to create: • the best of all possible worlds for ourselves and those we love. In doing this, we align with life in a deeply creative way!

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