Resilient, With a Cause: Power of Purpose in Resilience

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Without purpose, there is no resilience.
Because you are as resilient as the “cause” you believe in!

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I have always defined resilience as the ability to not only survive, but also grow through sudden change, trauma, or tragedy. Sometimes, I refer to resilience as “changing with change”. Today, I offer yet another definition. After the latest tragic events in Beirut, I refer to resilience as the strength of “Cedrus libani”- the cedar trees of Lebanon. Through time, biblical and spiritual meanings have been attached to cedar trees. Because of their size and longevity, they symbolize strength and eternity. They are also known as symbols of power. Lebanon, which was once covered in cedar trees, now has them only on the Kadisha Valley, over the slopes of Mount Makmel. The forest is called “Cedars of God”. In fact, the Bible mentions Lebanon Cedar at least 103 times;

"Behold, I will liken you to a cedar in Lebanon, with fair branches and forest shade." (Ezekiel 31:3)

Hence, the flag of Lebanon, with a cedar tree in the middle, as a symbol of their world-famous strength. Lebanese have always been referred to as a nation of relentless resilience. After all, they have been through a 15-year civil war, countless political tensions, assassinations, not to mention a collapsed public service, government, and economy, especially of late. And now, THIS- a warehouse full of ammonium nitrate exploding at 4.5 Richter scale, leaving hundreds dead, thousands wounded, homeless, and hungry.

"Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour thy cedars. Howl, fir tree; for the cedar is fallen; because the mighty are spoiled: howl, O ye oaks of Bashan; for the forest of the vintage is come down."
(Zechariah 11:1, 2)

How will Lebanon survive this? What will it take? Will the people of Lebanon show that incredible, innate resilience, yet again? Over the past ten years, many journalists and analysts refuted this reference to resilience. In their opinion, the association of the word “resilience” with the situation in Lebanon, was mere political propaganda, and had nothing to do with economic or social reality.

In 2015, Sahar Atrache, analyst to the Crisis Group wrote; “Lebanon’s much-vaunted resilience in the face of the regional turmoil around it conceals a disturbing complacency that simultaneously preserves and undermines its increasingly fragile state.”1

In 2017, Jamil Mouawad, mentioned; “Yet this ‘trompe-l’oeil’ resilience is indeed the resilience of the system and the ruling elite and not that of the state. It is equally the resilience of the society – a society that presently depends on this system.”2

The day after the explosion, Lina Mansour wrote, in the New York Times; “But now it has become clear that there is nothing truly resilient about Lebanon except its politicians and ancient warlords, who refuse to step down, even after their profiteering has bankrupted the country and its people...If things seem bleak now, at least there is this: We have finally come to recognize that a myth is poor consolation for a half-lived life, no matter how attractive that myth might be.”3

But, is Lebanese resilience a myth? Or, is it a non- refutable fact? To answer this question, we must first go back to a deeper understanding of resilience. The word resilience had become a popular, quick synonym for speedy recovery, way before Covid-19. Since Covid-19, it has been used, in fact over-used, in countless settings, to imply strength, agility, or grit. What is resilience really, at its core? After studying personal and professional resilience closely for over 5 years now, I affirm these three key ingredients- realism, resourcefulness, and realistic optimism- to make resilience. Without these pillars, standing on resilient ground is impossible. Realism means comprehending our circumstances well. It is being realistic, at times to the point of pessimistic, to face our own reality, no matter how bleak it is. Resourcefulness is asking for help from the right sources. It is tapping into our psychological, social, and economic network, smartly and quickly. Finally, realistic optimism is having hope and faith, beyond despair, despite grim reality.

Yes, this is a tough balance to achieve. And no, it is not for everyone. Known as the “Stockdale paradox” in business, Admiral James Stockdale talks about his observations as an admiral in the US army and as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He says, unlike common belief, it is not the optimists but pessimists who survived the war. Those who falsely believed that they would be rescued in no time, died, mostly of broken hearts. Those who accepted the reality of being a prisoner, tortured and hungry days on end, actually made it through. Denial is not the antidote to crisis. Acceptance is the first golden rule, to get out of the victim mode, and to start our fight for survival. In Stockdale’s famous words; “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end... With the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality.”

And, I know this is precisely what the Lebanese people will do. Because they have done it many times before. Because resilience is their 2 nd nature. Most of the Lebanese people I met over the years had stories to tell. With no exception, these were all stories of courage and creativity. Each one of them had the unique ability to mould magical solutions out of broken hearts. They had the innate superpower for resilience. They all had a “cause”- a purpose they believed in and lived for.
This is Michael Haddad. I had the honour of meeting him in September 2018. He is United Nation’s goodwill ambassador for climate action. He is also an endurance athlete who completed a 60,000 step “Cedar walk” to protest deforestation. He climbed the iconic “Raouche” in Beirut to draw attention to pollution. He snowshoed to Lebanon’s highest peak. Michael is paralyzed from the chest down since age 6! Miraculously, he not only re-learned to walk, but also competed vigorously in sports. Because, he believes in “turning disability into distinctive ability”.

In the photo above, among all the men, you see Zeina Daccahe. Her creative energy captivated me, as soon as I met her. She is an activist, actress, film director, drama therapist, and clinical

psychologist. She founded Catharsis-Lebanese Centre for Drama Therapy in 2007, dedicated to theatre as a social and
psychological therapy tool. She continues to produce plays in prisons of Lebanon, helping inmates deal with their trauma while drawing attention to the victimized population.
Both her theatrical and film productions of “Twelve Angry Lebanese”, received international recognition. Her new film, “The Blue Inmates” has been selected to participate in the upcoming Venice International Film Festival. Because, she believes in healing and changing a wounded society.

As one my favourite professors, Ranjay Gulati of Harvard Business School, often quotes, from the ancient Vedic
“You are what your deepest desire is. As your desire is, so is your intention.
As your intention, so is your will.
As your will is, so is your deed.
As your deed is, so is your destiny.”4
The Lebanese will survive THIS too. This too shall pass, yet as it does, will change them forever. Perhaps, THIS time, the will of the Lebanese people will change their destiny. Like in any adversity, this catastrophe will force them to face incredibly tough questions. They will answer them with resilience. Because their resilience is like the “Cedrus libani”. Because they have a cause they believe in, live for, and fight after. And the stronger the “cause”, the stronger the fight, for our survival and growth. Our purpose is our “why”, why we get up each day and seize the day. It is what we believe in, what drives us, and what makes us resilient.

As, there is no resilience without hope. And there is no hope without purpose.
1 Atrache, Sahar. (July 23, 2015). “Lebanon’s Deceptive Resilience”. International Crisis Group, website. 2 Mouawad, Jamil. (October 29, 2017). “Unpacking Lebanon’s Resilience: Undermining State Institutions and Consolidating the System?”. Foundation for European Progressive Stories. Paper 17. 3 Mounzer, Lina. (Aug 3, 2020). “We the Lebanese Thought We Could Survive Anything. We Were Wrong”. The New York Times. * Hasan Amnar. (Aug 4, 2020). Associated Press. Time Magazine. * AFP News Agency