Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards, and that has ALWAYS been the case. But man can also be very ingenious about how to manage.
Let me illustrate with examples from my circle of friends. One 25-year-old man with cerebral palsy has no functional hands or legs, is fed through a stomach tube, and can’t talk – but laughs a lot. Another 21-year-old man died from Friedrich’s Ataxia after losing his ability to walk and the strength in his hands by inches from the time he was about 10. He was an accomplished graphic artist. I wrote earlier about the ripples from his short life. Another 23-year-old man has Muscular Dystrophy. He made his first unsupervised friends in his late teens when he became able to play games over the Internet. Up until then, his disability meant he was under constant adult supervision – not conducive to close relationships with peers.
So some ideas from these friends:
– The young man with cerebral palsy has a companion dog who is his bridge to contact with people outside the family, as well as giving him big sloppy kisses that make him laugh. People come up to pet the dog and then stop to talk. These same people would probably walk by with averted eyes otherwise. Companion dogs are thoroughly trained and require a real commitment from the person and often family, but they can be a source of great comfort and company.
Make virtual contacts with others. Human relationships matter and can be hard for some people, for example disabled veterans, to manage in person. My friend with Muscular Dystrophy uses virtual forms of human contact — in his case gaming. He very much appreciates the evolving technologies since things keep getting easier as the strength in his hands declines. For those who aren’t into games, there are Blogs, Facebook, and online discussions. Computer companies have invested a lot in “accessibility” enhancements for software. For example, if a person can’t type well, there are trainable voice readers that can ‘take dictation.’
Find a hero — in a story or reality — who has struggled with a similar disability and somehow won through to a strong life. My friend with Friedrich’s Ataxia used Steven Hawkings for his hero and received considerable comfort from remembering that someone so disabled could still contribute so splendidly. That appealed to him because he had a similar kind of brain, so could picture himself making contributions in the same vein. Physical exercise of whatever form if still possible can also be important. So how about a hero such as the man who joined a fund-raising bike ride from Seattle to Portland in his un-motorized wheel chair, pushing all the way — and kept up.
So I guess I’m suggesting that we search among people – many of them quietly getting through difficult lives – who can provide examples of ways to find meaning in very circumscribed lives. I thought about nominating my friend with Muscular Dystrophy for one of Robert Biswas-Diener’s Courage prizes. But he declined, not perhaps seeing the courage that is very apparent to me.
My daughter recently became very upset about her job. I found her stamping around the house in a terrible mood, making justifiable complaints. She plopped herself down on the couch saying, “I’m just going to call them up and quit. I’ve had enough.”
My initial impulse was to argue with her. The job gives her the flexibility she needs to take prerequisite courses for applying to nursing school. The things that were bothering her didn’t seem that overwhelming to me, and I knew she didn’t have the time to look for another job.
But instead of arguing, I just sat down beside her and put my arms around her. If I said anything at all, it was something low and vague and sympathetic.
Pretty soon, she was up and moving around again, only this time she was working out the details about how to deal with the day’s challenges.
What did I learn?
I already knew that arguing with myself when I’m upset doesn’t help. The first step toward a resilient response is for me to calm myself down.
The experience with my daughter helped me extend that learning to the way I operate with other people. The first step to help someone else be resilient is to help them calm down. When I saw my daughter unhappy, I felt an urge to do something, but I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut. Only afterwards did it occur to me that the maternal instinct that led to gentle touch was just the right way to help her calm down.
We recently published a little book of edited articles from Positive Psychology News Daily called Resilience: How to Navigate Life’s Curves. Most of the chapters are about ways to become more resilient yourself. My chapter explains why it is important to calm down first before trying to argue with yourself.
Perhaps we’ll publish a second edition some day with new articles about how to help others be resilient. I’d love to hear about your experiences.
: Maternal instinct
courtesy of Tambako the Jaguar
I have been away from my blog too long. First there were the holidays, which always eclipse everything else. Then I traveled out west to visit my mother and help out in those small ways that make things run smoother — getting ready for the conversion to digital TV, fixing the email connection, cleaning out a cupboard or two. Then I had the dual pleasure of visiting good friends in San Diego and having a press pass at the conference at Claremont Graduate University called Applying the Science of Positive Psychology to Improve Society. Have no small goals! My summaries are posted on January 30 and 31 of Positive Psychology News Daily.
Resilience from Alaska Mom's Photo Stream
Now that I’m back at my own desk looking out my own window at the bare trees in the woods, I’ve been thinking about resilience again. I got a call from a reporter who was exploring the question, Why aren’t people unhappier in this time of economic trouble? I did a little looking around, first finding an online resource, The Road to Resilience, published by the American Psychological Association and Discovery Channel in the wake of September 11.
Ann Masten wrote a paper about resilience being “ordinary magic” — when people’s adaptive abilities are in good working order, they can withstand hardship. At the Claremont conference, Chris Peterson and Nansook Park talked about hardship causing character strengths to be developed or discovered. And even though it was a long time ago, we haven’t totally lost our collective memory of coming out the other end of the Great Depression. From people who were children then, we can still learn about gratitude for the blessings of the intervening years.
I’ve written about ways to build resilience — a PPND article called Resilience in the Face of Adversity and a short paper about how to prepare for and deal with the emotional impact of layoffs — available from my resources page.
Perhaps status stress — keeping up with the Joneses — goes down because we all feel at risk. It is a shared adversity.
I also think we are fortunate to have leadership that is eloquently optimistic and that calls on us to participate in the recovery. My mother keeps feeling sorry for President Obama because of the difficulty of his job. But I think, that’s why he was elected, that’s probably even why he ran. Difficult times make openings for greatness. That was certainly the case with Abraham Lincoln who had even bigger problems to address.
I’d love to hear your ideas.
Ghost Riders cover
I came across an intriguing way of thinking about happiness in Sharyn McCrumb’s novel, Ghost Riders. (pp. 205-206).
A character is sitting with a friend on a mountain, the air is not too hot, the sky is cloudless, and the laurel is in bloom. She says, “It’s so peaceful here. I’d put this day on my eternity list.”
What’s an eternity list? She explains it based on the theory from an [unidentified] English physicist who theorized that every moment in time lasts forever, that time may seem to flow, but it is actually separate nows, “each existing forever in its own dimension.”
So she speculates that maybe that’s what heaven is – “getting to live forever in one really wonderful moment. So the more happy moments there are in your life, the better your chances of spending eternity in a good place.”
Resilience from Flickr
Of course there are many unhappy moments in anyone’s life. As I wrote recently in my PPND article on resilience, adversity is part of the human condition. But at any given moment, there are a range of possible responses, some with happier consequences than others. Face the misery inherent in your life, yes, but don’t take on any more than necessary.
I shall start thinking about saving up my own eternity list — moments of communion with family and friend(s), moments of deep engagement in writing or working out details or talking about things that fascinate me, moments of physical beauty or pleasure, moments of knowing that what I am doing matters.