Resilience is often accused of being a homeland security “buzzword,” something regularly referenced and rarely understood.
In ecology and engineering resilience is well-researched, widely understood, even measurable.
In psychology there is substantial consensus regarding the reality of resilience and non-resilience. There is increasing agreement on those human traits that correlate with resilience. There is less agreement on the nature-nurture origins of resilience and whether adults can learn to be more resilient. But the case for adult learning has been sufficient to produce a US Army program aimed at enhancing soldier/family/community resilience.
There is a growing set of empirical findings related to social resilience (I especially recommend the Digital Library of the Commons). But the sociology of resilience is less mature than the psychology of resilience. For the purposes of homeland security we might learn from the psychological findings and try to test them in our more psycho-social domain.
In 2004 Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania and Christopher Peterson at the University of Michigan co-authored the 800 page Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. According to the American Psychological Association (co-publisher with Oxford University Press) the text is the:
… first progress report from a prestigious group of researchers in the Values in Action Classification Project, which has undertaken a systematic classification and measurement of universal strengths and virtues. This landmark work makes possible for the first time a science of human strengths that goes beyond armchair philosophy and political science. The handbook begins with the background of the VIA classification scheme and defines terms before describing in thorough detail the current state of knowledge with respect to each of the 24 character strengths in the classification.
Here are the twenty-four human characteristics which some clinical studies suggest are correlated with resilience (taken from the table of contents).
Strengths of Wisdom and Knowledge
- Creativity [Originality, Ingenuity]
- Curiosity [Interest, Novelty-Seeking, Openness to Experience]
- Open-Mindedness [Judgment, Critical Thinking]
- Love of Learning
- Perspective [Wisdom]
Strengths of Courage
- Bravery [Valor]
- Persistence [Perseverance, Industriousness]
- Integrity [Authenticity, Honesty]
- Vitality [Zest, Enthusiasm, Vigor, Energy]
Strengths of Humanity
- Kindness [Generosity, Nurturance, Care, Compassion, Altruistic Love, “Niceness”]
- Social Intelligence [Emotional Intelligence, Personal Intelligence]
Strengths of Justice
- Citizenship [Social Responsibility, Loyalty, Teamwork]
Strengths of Temperance
- Forgiveness and Mercy
- Humility and Modesty
- Self-Regulation [Self-Control]
Strengths of Transcendence
- Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence [Awe, Wonder, Elevation]
- Hope [Optimism, Future-Mindedness, Future Orientation]
- Humor [Playfulness]
- Spirituality [Religiousness, Faith, Purpose]
These are framed — and claimed — as preliminary, but meaningful scientific findings. According to field and clinical results the more an individual demonstrates these strengths, the more resilient the personality. Research is continuing to refine tests for each trait and better understand co-variances. But more than a prima facie case has been established for key characteristics of psychological resilience.
The more a community demonstrates these strengths, the more resilient the community? The organization? The nation?
Just for the sake of discussion, what if Seligman and Peterson are at least 80 percent correct in their inventory? Seligman, in particular, is a strong advocate for resilience “training” (ala the Army program). What if it is indeed possible to enhance resilience among adults and groups of adults?
How might homeland security (the enterprise) and/or Homeland Security (the government function) meaningfully and appropriately work to advance these characteristics?
Last week we had an extended discussion of “Boydian” concepts. At the core of John Boyd’s framework is our own orientation and the orientation of our adversaries. Orientation consists of genetic, cultural, and other inputs. Seligman and Peterson offer evidence and argument that the characteristics listed above are “universal” across the human population. In other words, these are core elements in the Orientation of resilient individuals. I wonder what Boyd would do with this claim? While I’m not sure what Boyd might say, it occurs to me that the Seligman/Peterson characteristics are at least as unfriendly to command-and-control as Boyd.
UPDATE: SUNDAY AUGUST 5
The National Academy of Sciences has released an online pre-publication copy of its forthcoming Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative. I appreciate Claire Rubin bringing it to my attention. Following is an introductory paragraph.
One way to reduce the impacts of disasters on the nation and its communities is to invest in enhancing resilience–the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from and more successfully adapt to adverse events. Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative addresses the broad issue of increasing the nation’s resilience to disasters. This book defines “national resilience”, describes the state of knowledge about resilience to hazards and disasters, and frames the main issues related to increasing resilience in the United States. It also provide goals, baseline conditions, or performance metrics for national resilience and outlines additional information, data, gaps, and/or obstacles that need to be addressed to increase the nation’s resilience to disasters. Additionally, the book’s authoring committee makes recommendations about the necessary approaches to elevate national resilience to disasters in the United States.