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Weekly Reflection

June 23, 2016

Dear Folks,

28 people gathered yesterday afternoon for the first in a series of conversations, “Let’s Talk About It.”  “It was a vital exchange,” one participant said as we were wrapping up, “and I’m so thankful for a room full of people who want to discuss issues that matter.”  So much is happening around us, in the community and in the world, said another.  “And challenging topics don’t take the summer off!”

Our opening discussion explored the idea of resilience as an essential human quality, using as background a recent Op-Ed by David Brooks (“A Nation of Healers,” New York Times, June 21) and a TED Talk delivered by Dr. Sam Goldstein in 2013.  Psychologists have identified some of the factors that make a person resilient, among them a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions, and the capacity to see failure as a form of helpful feedback. Even after misfortune, resilient people are blessed with such an outlook that they are able to change course and soldier on.  But how is resilience taught or engendered, we wondered?  Why do some people seem to have loads of it, while others not nearly enough?    Perhaps most importantly, how do we equip our children to handle life’s inevitable setbacks when they come?

Brooks introduces us to two young people who have thrived against extraordinary odds.  One 18-year-old woman, born to heroin and methamphetamine addicts, cycled through homes where she was physically abused and was later sent to psychiatric hospitals for depression.  “Yet this woman glows with joy and good cheer.  She’d built a family out of her friendships.  She’d completed high school, learned to express her moods through poetry and novellas,” found a job and a place to live, and plans to attend community college.  Another woman lost her father to a workplace accident when she was 17, and now she directs the Children’s Grief Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  How can people this beautiful emerge from pasts so hard, Brooks wonders.

Dr. Goldstein is the director of a center for children in Salt Lake City that is sometimes called the “3333 clinic,” and that’s not their address.  The 300 young people the clinic serves each year have to upset, worry, or annoy at least three adults, in at least three ways, in at least three settings, for at least three years.  “The children we see come to us as a last resort,” says Goldstein, so learning resilience is critical.  After 30 years of practice, he now coaches them in some very basic skills: how to deal with making a mistake, how to go about solving a problem, how to create meaningful connection with others, how to develop empathy.  He has discovered that a successful path into adult life is forged by those who figure out how to use their struggles to inform their way.  And managing adversity is about “heart.”  A significant connection to some adult “insulates, protects, and equips us,” he says.  It’s realizing that someone is committed to you that makes the difference.  And how does a young person or anyone else learn to trust this this connection?  “From our hearts to their minds,” reports Dr. Goldstein.  There’s no replacement for knowing that someone values you.

Our discussion last night ranged from personal narrative to sharing stories of interviewing refugees and war veterans.  What equips us to survive and thrive, one participant wondered.  Hope?  Grace?  Grit?  Dr. Goldstein said it this way: the ordinary magic of love.