(of a person or animal) able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.

DERIVATIVES:resilience noun, resiliency noun, resiliently adverb

It’s taken me a bit longer to do this post than I originally had hoped it would. Given the events in Boston this past  few weeks, this word resilience has been going through my mind a lot. Though it did also go through my mind due to other recent events as well (Newtown CT, Aurora CO among others). I do not want to sound as if I am medicalizing whatever caused the people who killed and maimed over 170 people. However, being the optimist that I am, I think people’s basic makeup is to be nice to other people and have a “live and let live” attitude to others that they disagree with or have no particular connection to.  I sometimes wonder what happened to people that would drive them to commit such acts of horror, that overcomes whatever resiliency that would otherwise keep them functional, reasonably happy people.

As a practicing physician I often get to see a side of people that they don’t often show others. There are the people who have gone through whatever traumas life has presented them and are married, have children and work. Others don’t seem as lucky, as if somehow given the same number and intensity of  shocks to their system used up whatever resiliency they have. They seem to go from moment to moment as if their lives are going to collapse. Anxiety seems to seep from their pores when they come into my office.

I have no answers as to why some people are more resilient than others. Often people who grew up in tough situations (few resources at home, single parents, drugs/violence in the neighborhood) make the news for getting into Harvard, Yale or some other school and “made it”. Was it that their parents and teachers helped them stay resilient. What about the people who are mirror images … they have caring parents who model being nice, giving to others, tolerance, don’t have  to worry about where if they are getting their next meal and where it’s coming from but somehow end up being unable to say no to whatever demon (now I’m speaking figuratively here, not literally) overwhelms whatever their resiliency can handle and they end up having issues (for lack of a better word) with drugs, violence or whatever.

Perhaps this will be my only foray into making any sort of commentary on society or sounding like I’m living in left field (or perhaps the peanut gallery) but: perhaps in addition to the three ‘Rs that are taught in school, Resilience should be added as a fourth R. Does it need to be  separate class? Probably not, life doesn’t happen in discrete blocks (I don’t spend one hour doing math, another hour ‘doing’ history, another ‘doing English’  i.e. reading writing, explaining things to people either verbally or in writing, and so forth)  and some things in school shouldn’t  either. Just learning that a bad grade in one test or class doesn’t mean the end of the world. Nor does having difficulty with one class or multiple subjects if given the skills/help in figuring out what helps someone learn. Ideally it’s something people should learn at home.

For something that affect health and quality of life, resilience is probably underrated. It is not the cure for all ills (if one is resilient, it doesn’t make one immune to getting cancer, diabetes, hypertension, etc). I suspect those who are more resilient are more able to deal with any chronic illness they might have and are more likely to take medication (if needed), follow up with any lifestyle changes that would affect their health (diet and exercise don’t become less important in diabetics once they start medication).  Would someone who’s resilient be less likely to do something that the  bombers did, that I don’t know. The answer to that, I leave to the psychiatrists, public health officials, philosophers, and those who actually do research in the area.

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