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Resilience: One Family's Story—and Lessons for Business and Society

Resilience is a word that has gotten a lot of play lately. In a world that has us spending more and more time bracing for what might be coming, it's something we're starting to think we maybe should have more of.

This article in Harvard Business Review talks about resilience in terms of getting back up after being knocked down. They say that "this will be a key to survival in a world where 'surprises are the new normal.'”

The Huairou Commission, a women's disaster relief organization, defines resilience as “the capacity of a community to organize itself to reduce the impact of disasters by protecting lives, homes, assets, basic services and infrastructure.”

Then there are cultural dimensions. Some have suggested that indigenous cultures are inherently more resilient. Have the modern conveniences of life made us soft, lazy and totally dependent on relatively fragile technology, thus more vulnerable to shocks? What can we learn from indigenous cultures about resiliency to make life safer for us and for them? Questions like these are being are being studied at places such as the Center for American Indian Resilience at the University of Arizona and at the Australian Indigenous Resiliency Project, particularly with respect to public health concerns.

Psychology Today describes it in terms of the ability to remain calm in the face of disaster.

Scientists are also studying the biological roots of resilience, trying to understand why some people can recover from trauma better than others. They have identified a neuropeptide marker Y, and a gene involved in hormonal feedback loops.

Jill Klein is a psychologist who teaches marketing at the University of Melbourne in Australia. Growing up, she was strongly influenced by the fact that her father, two aunts and her grandmother were all Holocaust survivors, having been taken from their home and shipped off to Auschwitz in 1944. Her grandfather, Herman, was sent to the gas chamber upon his arrival.

She has written a meticulous account of their experiences based hundreds of hours of interviews as well as the diaries kept by her two aunts, who were young women at the time. She also did a great deal of independent research to put their subjective accounts into an historical context. The result is the fine memoir entitled We Got the Water: Tracing My Family’s Path Through Auschwitz.

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