By Dr. Terry Macaluso, Head of School
Where does it come from—resilience? Is it genetic? Is it learned? Is it a component of our natural will to survive? Do we have a natural will to survive? How is it possible that one person facing impossible odds can persevere, while someone else cannot? Is it all choice? What does it take to maintain a resilient posture?
Clearly, the past year has given us, perhaps, more opportunities to be resilient than we really needed. At the same time, we’ve had a chance to think deeply about what it means to cope in a situation that we cannot fully understand and over which we have little to no control. We’ve had to accept realities that we would otherwise choose not to. We’ve had to limit human interaction in a way that flies in the face of all that we know about ourselves as social beings. We’ve had to deal with incompetence at an almost frightening level, reminding us that we are not completely autonomous; we are connected to other people. We are at the mercy of other people’s decisions…or we benefit from them. It can go either way.
I’m wiring this article on January 9, 2021. It won’t be published for another four months. Today I read a letter to the editor of the Seattle Times from Denise Juneau, Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools. In it she asks the same questions many of us at Eastside Prep have been asking ever since the schedule for the administration of the COVID vaccine came out designating teachers below the age of fifty as fourth in line to receive the vaccine. That is scheduled to take place in April. However, it’s January, when only those over seventy and people over fifty in multigenerational families are scheduled to receive the vaccine.
I have no idea what the circumstances will be in May—but I do know it’s likely that this piece will seem out of context. Nonetheless—I have a deadline.
As I reflect on the nature of resilience, one of the major lessons for me is that it comes in two forms: individual and communal; they are inextricably linked. Maybe communal resilience is just a different way of describing a community as supportive. But it occurs to me that communal resilience is actually more demanding than community membership. Communal resilience implies that many of us will have to give up something in order for the group to be resilient enough to thrive.
In month ten of family quarantine the nerves are frayed. Some tempers have been lost. Some behaviors have become less than desirable. By now, most of us have experienced the negative side of isolation; there’s nothing any of us wants more than to be able to return to campus. But…and this is where communal resilience comes in…we have to make decisions that account for myriad needs among the members of the community. We have families who are absolutely fine with their children learning from home. We have other families who are desperate to get their kids back on campus. We have some families who just need to get their kids out of the house! We have employees—crucial to the pedagogical effectiveness of the program—who are doing a great job from home and can’t come in for various and valid reasons.
I know the EPS community is composed of individually resilient people. What we need now and for the foreseeable future, though, is communal resilience. We need to think more broadly about what alternatives there are in our post-COVID reality. This process requires that each of us give up something—and still rise to meet the challenge.
The often repeated comment about villages and children becomes useful here. It takes a community to perpetuate a community. “We” have to empower “me” to endure. The community is the context within which the individual is allowed to become resilient (and schools are the places students should learn that skill). Not all communities do empower individuals to be resilient. Some communities prey on the individuals that compose them. These environments breed deception, dishonesty, distortion, and slander. That type of community enables the endurance of just a few people or a few ideas. Perpetuation of such a dynamic depends on the community not knowing the truth; the power of belief and the manipulation of community members is essential in sustaining groups that do not empower individuals to be resilient.
As I mentioned, this piece is being written in January. I haven’t yet announced the plan for EPS students to return to campus. Even so, I have a hunch that whatever we do, this is a community that prizes resilience; EPS is a place in which the good of all trumps the desires of the individual. And that, it is worth pointing out, is what a generous, authentic, and deeply human community offers its members.