Are you resilient or courageous?

During Covid lockdown over the last two years, I became really sick of hearing the word ‘resilient’ (and ‘unprecedented times’ and ‘double-vaxxed’ and...)

One night, after I had begged the newsreader on the TV yet again to use another word, my husband asked me what other word could possible describe ‘resilient’ better than ‘resilient’.

That made me think. English is a glorious language as it has more adjectives (that is, descriptive words) than any other language. Like bower birds, speakers of English over the centuries have purloined words, phrases and even spelling from other tongues to form a nest of vocabulary that is second to none. Synonyms, words that mean the same thing, actually don’t always. ‘Fragile’ doesn’t quite express the same meaning and nuance as ‘frail’ and ‘resilient’ denotes more than ‘strong’, ‘tough’ or even ‘buoyant’ – definitions that come from the computer thesaurus.

So, why does ‘resilient’ annoy me so much?

Resilience implies being able to overcome stressful situations. When we hear of objects being resilient, we refer to things like trees withstanding a storm or animal species surviving after a fire. However, the tree and the animals survive because of in-built genetic and habitual survival techniques. They don’t choose to be resilient – it just happens if they’re in the right place at the right time.

And this is the difference – choice. When humans say we are resilient, we are basically saying that we stood in one spot and somehow survived the disaster. I think most of us during lockdown did better than that. We chose to survive. We chose to live though isolation and make the best of it. We chose to adapt, learn new technologies and develop new communities. We chose to look forward to a world that has completely changed and a future that no one has much idea of how it will operate. As much as we were able, we chose optimism rather than complete despair – and that took courage.

Another observation – things that are resilient also stay in the one place – a tree in a storm, a rabbit in a burrow. Resilient people don’t move either – but courageous ones do.

Courage is a choice. Courage turns up as a gift when you are stressed, disappointed, scared, hurt. When you feel like the bottom has dropped out of your world. Courage says, ‘Here is my hand. I will help you up. But you need to stand on your toes, reach up and believe that I will be strong enough to get you out of here.’

There is a favourite scene of mine in the movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Indiana’s father has been wounded and the only thing that can cure him is healing from the Holy Grail. Indiana needs to go through various trials to get to the Grail. The last trial is when he runs out of a tunnel onto a sharp cliff face. He must cross a huge chasm, yet there are bridge nor steps to help him. He breathes, closes his eyes and stretches his leg out over the chasm. Will he fall? Will he get to the Grail? Will he save his father? (No spoiler alerts – you will have to watch the movie!) My point with this illustration is that Indiana was in an impossible situation, yet he displayed courage and faith by stepping out against all reason – and he ... No, you really will have to watch the movie!

Resilience is a condition. Courage is an act of faith, of inner strength. It can also become a good habit. Don’t be resilient; act courageously.


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