Resiliency: the skill we all need to survive

PHOTO: DaPuglet, Flickr CC

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Every living thing around us knows resilience. The snow-speckled maple out our window went dormant for the long cold winter, ready to release sap and resume life come spring. The chickadee stands on thin, nearly bloodless legs, all so these spritely little birds may flit among the branches no matter how cold the air.

The tree and the bird thrive so fully that their dance with the deadly forces of nature does not require our attention. They face hardship we’ll never know, yet endure.

So do we. But there are different kinds of resilience for humans. We can get by day-to-day, or we can live fully in the face of challenges. It’s all about how well we mitigate the tremendous stress of living with limited resources.

This idea of resiliency is an increasingly popular topic in educational and poverty research. Teachers and administrators recognize the ways that poverty and family disruption affect their students. The difference between students who succeed and those who don’t often comes down to this intangible detail of “resiliency.”

“The optimal goal is having kids be successful in education,” said Dr. Janey Blanchard, superintendent of Chisholm Schools. “But resiliency is more than that. We want students who can be successful in life. We want to help build these resiliency skills so that that whatever difficulties they face they can be resilient and lift themselves up.”

In a March 23, 2015 article at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Bari Walsh writes about “The Science of Resilience.”

“Resilience is born from the interplay between internal disposition and external experience,” writes Walsh. “It derives from supportive relationships, adaptive capacities, and positive experiences.”

Walsh writes that producing these characteristics in schools means “creating supportive adult-child relationships; building a sense of self-efficacy and perceived control; providing opportunities to strengthen adaptive skills and self-regulatory capacities; and mobilizing sources of faith, hope and cultural traditions.”

Over the past few years I’ve spent a lot of time talking to my friend Bill Betzler, a Buhl native now living in Minneapolis. A survivor of childhood abuse, he talks about his experiences and relates them to his Range roots.

“Rangers have championship resiliency skills,” said Betzler. “We know how to survive. In my experience, when I wasn’t consciously aware of my personal resiliency resources I couldn’t get past reacting to the next impossible problem in my life. As I became more aware, I could respond quicker and better to personal problems. I naturally began to use these resources proactively to make positive changes in my life. It’s all been baby steps. There had to be a first step before I could do a second step.”

Betzler now shares his experience working with homeless people in Minneapolis. He believes the people of the Iron Range have suffered historical traumas, too, but have benefited from having resilient communities.

“It’s a spiritual process,” he said. “It’s all about forgiveness, redemption, resurrection and transformation.”

On Wednesday, Feb. 7, Rochelle Johnson will present a program on poverty and resiliency at the Chisholm Public Schools auditorium. Johnson is the superintendent of Cass Lake-Bena schools in Northern Minnesota. After a career in education throughout Minnesota Ojibwa communities, she speaks of resiliency in finding success for people challenged by historical trauma and poverty. The program starts at 6 p.m. Wednesday and is open to the public.

“[Johnson] is a poster child for resiliency,” said Blanchard. From growing up in poverty in the Iron Range town of Bovey and on the Red Lake reservation, Johnson went on to become a respected educational leader. She now researches poverty in an effort to help students like her.

In essence, our greatest challenge — like that of the chickadee — is developing what it takes to overcome hardship.

There is a better way, and it is through community. Together, sharing the pain and also the recovery, is one way to build stronger foundations. For Iron Range communities touched by addiction, poverty and perceived decline, this is how we will survive the winter and thrive come spring.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.


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