Resilience. It’s become a watchword of the current cultural paradigm — a call to self- reliance, to rebound quickly, and respond to life’s challenges proactively. Indeed, these are relatively neutral-to-positive ideals, which point to our inherent ability as a species to experience hardship and recover, often emerging stronger, wiser, and more adaptable to future challenges.
This is not up for debate here. However there is, as always, some nuance that is often lacking from our national discourse on the topic. As with so many things, we have to look at intersecting identities, biological and environmental factors, personal experiences, and the capacities of our communities and the individuals who inhabit them to shape a realistic blueprint for how to move forward.
W. Thomas Boyce, M.D., wrote a book titled The Orchid and The Dandelion (2019). His theory explains down to the genetic level why some individuals seem to be endowed with an 1abundance of resilience, while others appear more sensitive to the influence of environmental factors (such as abuse, poverty, trauma, etc.). Boyce’s research has shown that there are two general “types” of people; in essence, some receive a bigger dose of genetic resilience at the biological and physiological level (Dandelions), whereas others are inherently more reactive to
life circumstances, for better or worse (Orchids). Each type has its strengths and challenges. Like all arguments regarding nature versus nurture, it is an extraordinarily complex investigation, which also conveniently serves to highlight why it has taken us so long to begin unpacking the idolization of resilience, and its connection to the myth of meritocracy in this country.
While it may be true that some individuals have the requisite resources, privilege, and capacities to reap the rewards of hard work in order to transcend the circumstances of their birth, to build empires from pulled-up bootstraps — it is equally true that this story is accessible as a reality for a select few. Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) are disproportionately excluded from this dream. They have been forsaken and brutalized by the systemic structures of oppression and the effects of white supremacy, which have shaped our history and threaten our future, as long as we continue in our fear and complacency. The solution will not be simple. It will demand our collective vulnerability and a true commitment to each other.
We must exercise our strengths in order to heal our wounds and move forward together. In the Latinx Community, the phenomenon referred to as familismo is described as a protective factor: “Researchers examining family relationships have shown familismo to be an important component in the social life of Latinx people, and it has been related to positive mental health outcomes because of strong feelings of closeness with family members and higher perceptions of social support” (Campos & Kim, 2017). There is some evidence that rigidly held values of these kinds can place a high degree of burden on children of immigrants who are faced with intense pressure to somehow make a place for themselves in American culture while also retaining the practices of their parents’ cultures of origin. And yet, the focus on the collective wellbeing of one’s community provides a shelter for its members when diversity comes knocking. We ignore this wisdom at our peril.
At Humanidad Therapy and Education Services, the mission of service to the Latinx community gave birth to a new kind of mental health agency, one that is built from its foundations to not only understand, but also to build on the strengths and resilience inherent in the culture it seeks to serve. The model of Convivencia provides culturally competent mental health services to Latinx individuals who may otherwise not feel welcomed in Western mental health spaces, which have for over a century been based on Euro-centric/Colonialist norms and simply cannot meet the needs of our diverse and ever-evolving communities of color. We are committed to doing better.
Here’s some really good news: It’s not too late. Genes are not the sole determinant of your future. We have seen repeatedly that humans are made up of more than the sum of their parts. We have within us an infinite universe of possibilities, including the potential for healing and earned resilience. This work will require our sincere intention on a grand scale to reorganize and rectify the structures and systems which oppress us all. It is our relationship to one another, and to our communities (work, home, school, book club, recovery groups, religious or spiritual organizations, etc.) that can — and must — become the fertile ground for growing something new. Let’s think big, imagine, and plant a world of resiliency within ourselves together.
By Cody Westfall, AMFT at Humanidad