A few years ago I wrote a thesis around the idea of building resilience in music students. The topics I covered back then seem to resonate very strongly with our current crisis. I’ve spent a lot of time recently reflecting on the increasing need for understanding of resilience as we deal with the world in 2020. It seems important to me to use this time of change to address aspects of our education system that are currently disadvantaging our students.
You may be thinking that resilience is something mainly discussed in volatile situations like war zones or for people with difficult backgrounds. But resilience is something we all need on a day to day basis. In fact, the World Health Organisation identifies resilience as being one of the eight attributes in promoting positive mental health. This includes promoting it not just in acute situations but in everyday life. Resilience has been studied for the last 50 years but research has only recently expanded from a focus on high-risk populations to the everyday lives of stable populations
Over the next few blog entries I’ll introduce just some of the ways we could 1. Build resilience and 2. Re-vamp the (let’s face it) out-dated conservatory system to match present and future needs.
Firstly, some points about resilience itself. It is a term that pops up in so many fields, from evolutionary science to behavioural psychology but overall the idea is the same.
The term resilience comes from the Latin ‘resilire’ which means ‘to leap back’ or to return to equilibrium. The process of recovery after a stressful event plays an important role in understanding resilience. Each person will react to a stressful event differently according to his or her previous experiences or predispositions. Each person’s path to recovery will also be a different one. Recovery relates to behaviour directly following a stressful event. In order to take the steps to recovery a person needs to understand his or her equilibrium – the feeling of being content and in control.
One aspect of resilience refers to prevention and resistance. To prevent negative situations implies preservation or protection of one’s equilibrium and is used to pre-empt and prevent negative situations.
From an evolutionary perspective, resilience is strongly connected to the ability of species and ecosystems to adapt. In order to build resilience, humans need to be accepting of change in their environment and adapt accordingly. In an evolutionary context resilience and adaption mean survival.
But resilience is more than just recovery and survival. It involves more existential questions of purpose of life. What sort of life do we want to sustain after recovery? What are our values and goals? Without a sense of purpose recovery can seem less urgent. In their ‘Handbook of Adult Resilience’, Reich writes ‘Whereas resilient recovery focuses on aspects of healing of wounds, sustainability calls attention to outcomes relevant to preserving valuable engagements in life’s tasks at work, in play and in social relations…Mind and body homeostasis is sustained not by emotional neutrality but by ongoing, purposeful, effective engagement‘  By this definition, resilient people don’t necessarily seek out constant comfort, but rather continue actively engaging in the world accepting the potential for change and discomforts with the higher goal of living a more worthwhile life.
Learning, growth and vulnerability
Recovery happens naturally in humans over time and often leads to personal growth. Reich et al. remark on the amount of people who, after a stressful situation, develop a new appreciation for relationships, situations and things that were taken for granted beforehand. In a similar way, people express other qualities and discover new sides to themselves when faced with stressful situations. Communities often witness out-of-the-ordinary acts of bonding and good will in times of hardship. Being resilient and being vulnerable are co-existing states: many negative experiences will leave us with information about ourselves that we could not have learnt otherwise.
I’m certain many of these definitions will resonate with you in the current climate. The Corona pandemic will impact our comfort zones and ‘homeostasis’ for a while to come. Already we are changing our ways of thinking, protecting ourselves, adapting and hopefully learning.
Keep reading the following blog entries for ways in which we can adapt and actually improve upon our ‘homeostasis’ in the arts world.
 Reich, J., Sautra, A., & Hall, J. S. (2010). Handbook of Adult Resilience. New York: The Guildford Press. Page 6
 Ibid. Page 4