Community resilience in a changing world
By Davie Philip
A week before Christmas, I moved into one of the first houses to be occupied in the Cloughjordan Ecovillage. After ten years of being involved in this sustainable community project, I have finally moved in. The ecovillage is an innovative development, integrating with the town of Cloughjordan in North Tipperary, where work has started on over 20 eco-homes and features renewable-energy for heating, allotments, a community supported farm, and plans to be a destination for people wanting to learn about sustainability and resilience. 45 families from this project have now located to the village of Cloughjordan and community life there is vibrant. This project has many elements which will provide a sense of resilience, but I have come to realise that if I don’t nurture my own resilience, I can’t contribute to my community’s. What I want to explore this month is the need to build personal resilience as a key step in the process of building community resilience.
The term ‘resilience’ is widely used by ecologists and is defined as the ability of ecosystems to maintain themselves in the face of disturbance. Resilience from a community point of view refers to the capacity of a community to cope with stress, overcome adversity and adapt to change positively. The unprecedented floods and then the big freeze that Ireland endured recently highlights how unprepared we have been to cope with unexpected incidents, and the level of our vulnerability.
“By looking to past failed civilisations we can learn what not to do with our future. Like the ancient Mayans, we’re reaching peak everything – oil, land, population, climate, food and water – but the question is whether we can manage the change, or will we let the changes manage us.” David McWilliams, Addicted to Money, RTE
Our preparedness depends on us understanding the converging challenges and building our own ability to cope and adapt to change. I am of the opinion that we will need to prepare to manage the change together, as communities, and am heartened by the small but growing interest in community initiatives around Europe such as community food and energy systems, local currencies, and even community energy companies.
Hopefully the spirit of the meitheal is on its way back. Signs of this can be seen in some of the communities who got self-organised in order to help each other during the floods last year. Also encouraging are the popularity of the Grow Your Own and Transition Towns movements. On their own, these efforts may be inadequate to meet the challenges we collectively confront, but they could be the catalyst we need to start to think about the things we can do for ourselves locally. We need top down support for these bottom up community initiatives, and nations and regions will need to put in place strategies to better prepare for the challenges on the horizon. However, unless we nurture our own resilience, our ability to face adversity, recover from setbacks and embrace change will be completely undermined.
Personal resilience can be described as our ability to deal with trauma, tragedy, and all kinds of threats. The more resilient we are, the faster we will bounce back from difficult experiences. It is not a characteristic that some people have and others don’t have, resilience can be developed by everyone. But how do we do this? Here are some steps that are helping me to enhance my own personal resilience that I would like to share:
This is a good first step on the journey. Do what you can to maintain your health and look after yourself. Regular exercise and a balanced diet are absolutely necessary for personal resilience. This will give you the strength and balance to deal with difficult situations. Some sort of meditation or quiet time on your own each day, even a walk in nature, is extremely beneficial.
Over the last two decades, our society has become more and more individualistic. It is as if we don’t need anyone anymore. Strengthening your relationships with your partner, family, friends and your local community are a necessary step for resilience. Having people that you trust and can talk to will be essential in times of hardship. So, nurture connections with people, but don’t get too attached to meeting their approval.
Being aware of our choices and reactions to the challenges we face, both personally and collectively, can provide resilience to future negative events. Stressful and negative events happen, but you can change how you react and respond to them. Be aware of what you need to learn, especially around providing for your essential needs.
Think about your past experiences of dealing with hardship and stress, and appreciate what you have learned from them. There is a lot of potential for personal growth and resilience by reflecting on past failures and crises. Another process I use is to take a mental snapshot of how I feel when I am happy and content, which I can then remember and reflect on when I am low or in a place of hardship. This will help you to better deal with difficult situations.
Change is one of the only constants in life. Accepting this can help us to adapt to new circumstances. We should nurture a long-term perspective and a “bigger picture” view of our situation and avoid getting bogged down in the scale of the challenges facing us. Many people who have come through difficult times have described having a new appreciation for life from the experience.
Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter. Setting realistic goals and taking small steps towards achieving them can help maintain perspective.
Be optimistic and nurture a positive view of yourself. Developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts helps build resilience. Think positively.
Identify things you need to do as part of your own personal strategy for fostering resilience. Don’t avoid taking action. Procrastination and hoping our problems will go away will just make things worse. Do something practical like starting a garden, even better a community garden which as well as contributing to your resilience around food will build relationships with people in your neighbourhood. Just getting your hands into the soil can be grounding. Celebrate your accomplishments.
Operate with Integrity
Live your values and be honest with others, but, most importantly, be honest with yourself. Our culture is based in deception and illusion, from political spin to the daily bombardment on our consciousness from advertisements. Don’t add to the noise. Cultivate compassion, kindness and respect.
Getting active in your community and being able to offer and accept help and support when it is needed is the key to your resilience. Establishing a meaningful contact or connection with your community, whether this is your household, the town where you live, or the business where you work will nurture personal resilience and help you cope with some of the challenges on the horizon.
Developing personal resilience requires time and effort, but can be nurtured. Tomorrow is not going to look like yesterday, and to be able to withstand and manage change is an ongoing process.
Good luck on your road to resilience. Adapt and thrive.
Davie Philip is the Education Manager at the Cultivate Centre, a member of the Cloughjordan Ecovillage and the Coordinator of the Irish Transition Towns Network.