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“Resilience refers to the capacity of an entity or system to maintain and renew itself particularly in the presence of stressors, that is, when the existence or viability of the entity or system is challenged or threatened,” writes James Neill (2006). He notes that resilience can be observed as a dynamic phenomenon in a variety of systems: ecological, cultural and psychological.


The McConnell Foundation identifies two aspects of resilient communities: environmental sustainability and social inclusion. “Resilient communities are able to adapt and to buffer the impact of change for their members; they are characterized by strong institutions, dense networks and flexible coping mechanisms.” http://www.mcconnellfoundation.ca/default.aspx?page=143&lang=en-us


A majority of children do not just survive troubles families; they go on to lead satisfying lives in which they neither repeat nor feel defeated by the trauma of the past. Marano (2005) writes, “A troubled family can indeed inflict considerable harm on its children, but resilient people are challenged by such troubles to experiment and respond actively and creatively. Their pre-emptive responses to adversity, repeated over time, become incorporated into their inner selves as lasting strengths.”


Research reveals that these resilient people are not unusually blessed. We have an innate resiliency that unfolds naturally in the presence of certain environmental attributes. Resilience is our inborn capacity for self-righting and for transformation and change (Benard, 2006).


Key factors that support resilience in at-risk youth


“Caring relationships convey compassion, understanding, respect, and interest … and establish safety and basic trust. High expectation messages … look for strengths and assets as opposed to problems and deficits. Lastly, [resilience is nourished by] opportunities for meaningful participation and contribution …to the community (Benard, 2006). Resilient people draw clear boundaries between themselves and troubling or abusive situations. They cultivate insight and take charge of problems, often stretching and testing themselves. They creatively reframe problems as challenges and cultivate optimism. “But they don't do all the work alone. One of the cardinal findings of resilience research is that those who lacked strong family support systems growing up sought and received help from others…. Relationships foster resilience.” Marano, H. (May 27, 2005).



Resilience in Natural Systems


According to the Resilience Alliance, “Ecosystem resilience is the capacity of an ecosystem to tolerate disturbance without collapsing into a qualitatively different state that is controlled by a different set of processes. A resilient ecosystem can withstand shocks and rebuild itself when necessary. Resilience in social systems has the added capacity of humans to anticipate and plan for the future. Humans are part of the natural world. We depend on ecological systems for our survival and we continuously impact the ecosystems in which we live from the local to global scale. Resilience is a property of these linked social-ecological systems.”


“Natural systems are inherently resilient but just as their capacity to cope with disturbance can be degraded, so can it be enhanced. The key to resilience in social-ecological systems is diversity.” http://www.resalliance.org/576.php



Resilience in Societies


Items lined up for a potlatch near Victoria, British Columbia, 1865

PMAE # 2004.1.806 from http://www.peabody.harvard.edu/potlatch/page4.html


Resilience is a property of certain societies. Trosper (2003) writes: “The Resilience Alliance proposes that social and ecological resilience requires three abilities: the ability to buffer, the ability to self-organize, and the ability to learn. … Characteristics of the potlatch system among Indians on the Northwest Coast, namely property rights, environmental ethics, rules of earning and holding titles, public accountability, and the reciprocal exchange system, provided all three required abilities. The resulting resilience of these societies confirms the validity of many of the ideas now being discussed as important components in providing successful and sustainable relationships between humans and their ecosystems. That so many separate ideas seem to have been linked together into resilient systems in the Pacific Northwest suggests that social ecological resilience is complicated.”




Benard, B. (2006). The Foundations of the Resiliency Framework: from Research to Practice. http://www.resiliency.com/htm/research.htm


Marano, H. (May 27, 2005). The Art of Resilience. Psychology Today Magazine. http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-2822.html


Neill, J. (2006). “What is Resilience. http://www.wilderdom.com/psychology/resilience/


Trosper, R. (2003). Resilience in Pre-contact Pacific Northwest Social Ecological Systems. Ecology and Society, March 14, 2003 http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol7/iss3/art6/#SocialLearning

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