Wednesday, June 17, 2020

"Humans are So Resilient!"

"Humans are so resilient!" We've all heard it these past few months, an expression of astonishment that we are somehow managing to survive, even thrive, in the face of the challenges. And it's true that we, as a species, are adaptable. The flip side, of course, is that those who can't adjust to their changing environment will suffer and even perish.

When someone expresses amazement about resiliency I understand that more often than not, they are celebrating that someone has overcome something, be it the loss of income, a business, a house, or a spouse, emerging on the other side, perhaps not better off than before, but certainly different. I'm thinking right now of the generation that grew up with the deprivations of the Great Depression. The "resilient" ones are most often those who learned to economize and that adaptation is still evident today in many of our oldest citizens who have never fully unlearned the lessons of scrimping and saving. Many tout this adaptation as an admirable trait, one to be emulated, while others find those same behaviors depressingly Scrooge-like. 

Pandemics, economic depressions, wars, natural disasters, and revolutions are the kinds of obvious, massive events that test our resiliency, but we are also tested every day through our personal challenges as well: illness, job loss, conflict, and other strife. Whether we thrive or not, whether we survive or not, is unknown, but what is certain is that we won't emerge the same as when we went in. And there's no going back: that is in the nature of transformation for better or worse.

Children are no less resilient than adults. Indeed, I would argue that in most cases they are more adaptable, probably because they have less history with the way things always have been and are therefore less prone to clinging to the "good old days." In other words, they tend to be more open to transformation, not so much because they crave change, because many don't, but because they are accustomed to having little or no power to control anything but their own response to it.

It is those with the most to lose, the most powerful, who we see engaged in the Sisyphean project of fighting against change. We have an entire federal administration in the US that is simply declaring that the pandemic is over, not because it is, but because they must get back to the business of consolidating their power. We have American businesses pushing to "re-open" the economy ahead of the schedule recommended by pandemic experts in order to get back to the business of refilling their depleted coffers. They fear that if we don't get back to "normal" soon, they will find themselves deprived of their power and wealth. 

And then there are white people who are doing everything they can to resist the dismantling of the systems of white supremacy. They fear that the toppling of the hierarchy of race and the deconstruction of the myth of merit will rob them of the unearned power of their privilege. 

When we look over the short history of the United States, we see a nation of resilience, one that has adapted and evolved, but the single most resilient aspect of our culture is not freedom or justice or apple pie. It is white supremacy. It adapted to abolition. It adapted to civil war. It adapted to the end of Jim Crow. It adapted to voting rights, civil rights, desegregation, and every other effort at racial progress, time and again not going away, but simply adapting itself to the new landscape. Surface change, while it might make us feel good and may even be a true expression of our hopes and dreams, is not enough to kill a virus as adaptable and resilient as systemic racism. 

I'm not smart enough to know if the pandemic played a part in the Black Lives Matters earthquake that is shaking the world right now, but the foundations are nevertheless shaking, and it's making a lot of white people nervous. And I'm nervous too, in all honesty, because change can be frightening, but this hierarchy of race that has adapted itself to every aspect of our lives makes racists of even the "best" people. 

"Humans are so resilient!" This is true of our human systems as well, and not always for our betterment. 

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I'm excited to announce that Teacher Tom's Second Book is now available in the UK, Iceland, and Europe thanks to my friends at Fafunia! It's also available in the US and Canada. We're working to find our distributor for Australia and New Zealand. If you want to go directly to the Fafunia page click here.  And if you missed it, Teacher Tom's First Book is back in print as well.

And finally, this is uncomfortable for me, but I earn most of my income by speaking at education conferences and running in-person workshops. I've had 95 percent of my income wiped out for the next 9 months due to everything being cancelled. I'm hustling to become a new and improved Teacher Tom. I know I'm not the only one living with economic insecurity, but if you like what you read here, please consider hitting the yellow donate button below.

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