Rethinking Resilience: A Review of Change your World

 

When I began reading Change Your World by Michael Unger PhD I admit I was sceptical. I’d become so jaded by victim blaming resilience proponents, I was bracing myself for more of the same.

Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised.

Change Your World takes us on a journey around the world exploring ways humans use to survive, providing us with the essential ingredients for resilience. Surprisingly reassuring, Unger acknowledges that it isn’t our individual characteristics that make us strong. Rather, it is the communities in which we exist that most influence how we survive and thrive.

When I first heard the marketing emphasis for this book belittling the field of self-help, I thought that was irresponsible. In the book, Unger does actually acknowledge that effort made by individuals for self-improvement is beneficial. His issue with the self-help movement stems from his recognition of the pervasive false claims of magical solutions as well as the emphasis on personal grit exclusive of context. Unger understands that no human is successful on their own - our success depends on the supports in our environments.

This is a refreshing take on the theme of resilience that I have been seeing increasingly enter the realm of ubiquity across society. As with any new idea that gains a following, resilience has been co-opted by many to serve their selfish purposes.

I have often bristled at the thought of employees being subjected to resilience training. I could only imagine how they would later be blamed for illness or issues, because they didn’t practice their newly learned strategies enough. I feared immediately that employees would be further vilified while their employers continued to exploit them in myriad ways.

I also once received notification of a spiritual development opportunity being offered by a guru in India. He was teaching people resilience in the ashram. I thought, this is another bastardization of a good concept for the exploitation of people genuinely seeking solutions to their very real suffering.

I initially learned about resilience as the protective factors present that mitigate the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences and prevent the development of trauma during childhood. The separation of resilience from its partner adversity has always scared me. As people preferred to focus only on the positive, we have developed false recipes for being strong and able to withstand challenges. We’re even teaching our children social and emotional literacy in school now. But we haven’t been talking about why we or our children need to be resilient, and we haven’t been working on eliminating the many preventable adversities many adults living today survived, and many children today still have to withstand because of our social conditions. 

Fortunately Unger actually does see resilience in the context of social conditions, and throughout Change Your World he provides many examples of how personal resilience is dependent on community factors, and all resilience is dependent on political decisions.

My faith in the resilience theme has been restored.

I highly recommend Change Your World for anyone interested in understanding how humans actually survive and thrive and what we need in our environments to make that successful.

I have two issues with the book.

First, I don’t think Unger emphasizes enough the need for the reprioritization of our political will to prevent adversity and intentionally embed in our society the conditions we all need to thrive.    

Second, I think the title of the book should be Change The World. People who are still under-resourced in their lives as a result of adversity and the minimal presence of resilience factors need help changing their worlds to support them reaching their full potential. Telling the suffering to Change Your World still leaves the onus on the individual to make the changes in their own lives that they deem necessary. Change The World as the title would call upon all of us to work together to make all our lives healthier, making the work collaborative, which I believe is Unger’s intention.

In his own words: “the truth is that the real sources of change in my life have always been found in the world that surrounds me and my ability to marshal these resources when I need them.”   

Unger doesn’t expect us to create those resources ourselves. He gives us the essential ingredients to create together to support resilience in individuals, communities, and humanity as a whole.

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