Three Perspectives on Resilience

Exciting how much is happening in the development and planning world regarding community resilience today. The word is all the buzz at the moment. We think that resilience being fashionable is generally a good thing, but there is a risk too. That is while it is becoming a new buzzword for climate action is it losing its connection with the roots of wellbeing. Here are three ways to understand resilience that leaders can use to keep their work fresh and meaningful.

Radical Uncertainty.

It is unclear who coined the term but Joanna Macy uses it in her work with Despair and Empowerment as part of The Work that Reconnects. It is the generative idea that we don’t know the outcome. The idea underpins her inspiration for the Great Turning, where collectively we shift from the unraveling systems to life-sustaining ones. The natural sense of fear of negative outcomes is natural, when we are facing harsh realities like rising seas, biodiversity loss, floods, the end of oil or depleted soils. These patterns impact the places we live and our very identities.
"Resilience" by neil cummings is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
The idea of embracing uncertainty is radical because of a cultural preference for what is familiar, known, measurable. Embracing uncertainty might be an increasingly urgent social and environmental need, especially as we embark on convening for community resilience. Radical uncertainty is categorically about resilience because it gets our heads out of the sand, and gets us thinking about how we want to leave things for the future generations. The practice is simple: when thinking about the future, we acknowledge the facts and our feelings, then we make space for imagining the future that we want to co-create. This kind of futuring is about emergence. What is emergent, can not be known. If we want to play with emergence, we need to crack the code on certainty and tap in to relationship.


Resilience is often presented as a bounce-back-ability. This elastic quality describes a system taking a shock and rebounding back to its previous state of being. What if the bouncing is bouncing-with, or bouncing-forward? This is exactly what Dr. Chris Johnstone suggests in Seven Ways to Build Resilience. There are four ways that we can bounce. We can bounce-back, -with, -forward and -outwards.

Bouncing-back is a recovery process. Bouncing-with is an adaptive process, like the roots of a plant growing below ground when the above-ground is not suitable, or our bodies storing energy, or learning from our struggles. When we see the transformative capacity in living systems of the chrysalis, the seed, and the seasons, we are seeing bouncing-forward. The power a community finds to organize and feed itself, sharing tools and time, practicing mutual aid and setting up support when faced with challenges. Bouncing-outward is this radiating ripple in a network system. Think, fungi in the forest, allowing plants to share biochemical information instantaneously to make the whole more resilient. In this type of resilience relationships and the emergent properties of the relational field is important to cultivate. What we define as our scope of work only be part of the story. As we approach resilience work as supporting community wellbeing, these types of resilience are important to consider.

”Having abandoned the flimsy fantasy of certainty, I decided to wander.” -Kameelah Janan Rasheed


Neuroscience has something to offer our mindsight on resilience as well: The self is not a solo being or identity. Self as a private singularity is being expanded by neuroscience to the relational field that is in between like a collective nervous system. Our agency, perspective and sensory experience are wrapped up in our self-identities. This fuels us to make things happen, to try to belong, to control and plan, but also contributes to learned helplessness and trauma.

Dr. Dan Siegel explains that he thinks that it is a mistake of the grandest proportions to continue to validate that notion that the self is separate. He does not advocate for throwing out the self when he makes the case for liberation from the limitation of it. Instead, he advocates for a systems-thinking view. With advances in systems thinking we can measure the qualities of the whole and we are empowered to measure what is between and inside the whole. This is important to understand to transcend our learned helplessness, whether we are healing from addiction or assisting the planet to heal, or cultivating community.

Dr Sará King, offers a thought experiment that we might have a collective nervous system that is measurable; that we can intentionally weave the me into a we for greater resilience. She advocates for art, dancing, celebration, joy and aliveness as the container to both behold our differences and to heal our collective trauma. This pathway to mutuality, adaptation and learning can help us to transcend our limited individual/private stories of me and allow us to join a more empowered sense of collective self.

These two neuroscientists say that identity is a lens. What we focus on and can change the focus of the self. They are expanding the idea of self as a private singularity to include the relational field that is within and between us. When we get this, they say, we can transform our capacity to offer greater resilience assisting the healing of the planet instead of assisting in its destruction. On a practical level they describe this as a radical friendship defined by gratitude, compassion and awe. 



  3. Dr. Sará King & Dr. Dan Siegel found consensus and expanded on this idea with Thomas Hübl in a talk titled the Science and Healing Power of Interdependence at the Healing Collective Trauma Summit 2022. With a paywall, this conversation was recorded and is available befind a paywall at