From My Chair: Vacation from History

“All civilizations face their fragilities. Many residents of the world’s wealthiest nations, particularly Americans, have felt fortunate to live through a period largely insulated from shocks and disruptions. This “vacation from history” enabled many to become accustomed to living at the efficient-but-fragile end of the robust-yet-fragile continuum. In a world temporarily devoid of consequences, the slow erosion and increasing inelasticity of the country’s political, financial, socioeconomic, and ecological systems scarcely seemed to matter. Now that a new, more volatile chapter has begun, those now-compromised systems have flipped from being engines of resilience to sources of fragility themselves.”

Zolli, Andrew. Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back (p. 261). Free Press.

As I sit in my favorite chair, awaiting the passing of the very reduced schedule of ferry sailings, I am haunted by how prescient the phrase “vacation from history” is to our present moment of the corona virus pandemic.


Occasional ferry passing

We are in Day 25 of our social distancing.

The ferry in normal times is almost like a slow moving metronome that goes by four times an hour.  I can hear it well before I see it from my chair.  Our long ago golden retriever used to bark at the ferry going by.  That was not a lot of fun at 2:30 am.  We mentioned this to our friend, Captain Bingham, who drove the ferries for over 20 years.  He laughed and said “Well, the barking always works because the ferry always goes away.”

But no barking can make the pandemic go away.  No barking can reunite us with our grand children.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple of years rebuilding my personal resilience.  I’ve reached out to a wide range of friends, family, colleagues, and medical professionals to help me Build Resilience.  I’ve read a lot about resilience.

I love the following quote from Enlightened Aging:

“The path to healthy aging is not centered on the consumption of health care services. The path is instead centered on developing the ability to adapt to changing circumstances—the ability to bounce back from an illness, injury, loss, or any other setback. In a word, resilience. Don’t be fooled by the ads. You don’t procure resilience; you build it.

As I reflect while the occasional sun break light reflects off the Puget Sound, I remember the startling questions from one of my medical professionals “so what are you building resilience for?  What’s next?  What transformation is next for you as you build resilience?”

What transformation is next?

That is the $64 million question right now for this global pandemic.  What are we going to transition to?  How are we going to transform as we encounter our fragile existence because we were on a vacation from history?

Yet, this pandemic is wrapped in an even bigger threat of climate change.  I love the people that I’ve encountered in volunteering with the Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL).  While building the resilience of its members, they seek a bipartisan path to doing something today about climate change.  CCL wonderfully weaves a network of volunteers to make a difference now.  They follow many of the examples laid out in Zolli’s Resilience.  Zolli credits Valdis Krebs and June Holley for identifying the patterns of community resilience building in their research paper “Building Smart Communities through Network Weaving.”

What a wonderful term “network weaving.”

Krebs identifies five patterns in all effective networks:

  1. “Birds of a feather flock together: nodes link together because of common attributes, goals or governance.
  2. “At the same time diversity is important. Though clusters form around common attributes and goals, vibrant networks maintain connections to diverse nodes and clusters. A diversity of connections is required to maximize innovation in the network.
  3. “Robust networks have several paths between any two nodes. If several nodes or links are damaged or removed, other pathways exist for uninterrupted information flow between the remaining nodes.
  4. “Some nodes are more prominent than others – they are either hubs, brokers, or boundary spanners. They are critical to network health.
  5. “Most nodes in the network are connected by an indirect link in the network. A-B-C-D shows a direct link between A and B, but indirect links between A and C and A and D.  Yet, the average path length in the network tends to be short. There are very few long paths in the network that lead to delay and distortion of information flow and knowledge exchange.”

Krebs observes that “Network Weaving” follows four stages of knitting:

“A vibrant community network is generally built in 4 phases, each with it’s own distinct topology. Each phase builds a more adaptive and resilient network structure than the prior phase. Network mapping can be used to track your progress through these four stages.

1) Scattered Fragments
2) Single Hub-and-Spoke
3) Multi-Hub Small-World Network
4) Core/Periphery

As we transition from social distancing, we will need to transform ourselves, our communities, our nation, and our global relationships through our network weaving.  Through his many examples, Zolli offers many ways forward:

“Even our own thoughts play a role here, not only in our own resilience, but in others’ as well. The work of researchers like Richard Davidson, Elissa Epel, Clifford Saron, Amishi Jha, and others shows us paths to improving our own resilience through reflective practice and the discovery of greater meaning in our lives. And Gary Slutkin shows us how such habits of mind can be contagious, for good or ill. Tie these threads together, and you have the first links in a chain that connects your personal resilience to that of your social circle, your community, the place you work and live, and out across the world.  What you choose to believe, the mental practices you cultivate, and how you respond to disruption truly shape the whole. Resilience can radiate out from within.

“The journey toward resilience is the great moral quest of our age. It is the lens with which we must necessarily adjust our relationships to one another, to our communities and institutions, and to our planet. Even so, we must remember that there are no finish lines here and no silver bullets. Resilience is always, perhaps maddeningly, provisional, and its insistence toward holism, longer-term thinking, and less-than-peak efficiency represent real political challenges. Many efforts to achieve it will fail, and even a wildly successful effort to boost it will fade, as new forces of change are brought to bear on a system. Resilience must continuously be refreshed and recommitted to. Every effort at resilience buys us not certainty, but another day, another chance.

“Every day is Day One.”

Zolli, Andrew. Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back (pp. 275-276). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

Every day is Day One in transforming our vacation from history.

What networks are you weaving today?

This entry was posted in Flipped Perspective, From My Chair, Wake Up!. Bookmark the permalink.

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