Fatigue is an enemy of resilience. A strong piece of metal will eventually weaken and break when the unrelenting pressure of constant bending weakens formerly powerful molecules. The human spirit can endure untold trauma and hardship; the human spirit can also weaken and break. This is the purpose of torture, where strong people will disclose private information, patriots will pledge allegiance to foreign power, or innocent people will acknowledge guilt.
The challenge of resilience is to nurture a tender heart where there are a million hurts. The psalmist writes, "If you hear the Lord's voice today, harden not your hearts (Psalm 9:5). The Prophets warn the people not to let their hearts turn to flint (Zachariah 7:12). The implication is that the hardening of the heart is a choice that can be made by, and be a project of, both the individual and the group. How hard were the hearts of the executioners and the nation at the Holocaust or the Hutu tribe in the African genocide of members of the Tutsi tribe in Rwanda! In order to carry out their slaughter, they had to dehumanize and depersonalize their victims, calling them "vermin" and "cockroaches".
At its height in Italy, the Coronavirus was responsible for up to over seven-hundred deaths in a day. Yet, throughout the afflicted world, people were able to reach out in mutual defiant celebration. In the late evening in the town of Siena, residents were isolated in the buildings that flanked the sides of empty, narrow streets. From one window came the someone's voice singing in Italian. Then, from somewhere down the street, the song was taken up, then from another, then another, until voices singing in harmony echoed throughout the neighborhood. St. Catherine (1347-1380) also was from (the then much smaller) Siena, this same city that countered ugliness of the virus with the beauty of song. Catherine of Siena confronted the elite of her day. "Speaking the truth to power". She was one the of two first woman simultaneous declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI. She wrote, "Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire."
Remember that jazz is the American gift to the repertoire of music. In an interview with a 4/12/20 broadcast of 60 Minutes, Winton Marcellus, at the height of the Coronavirus in the United States and after the virus had claimed the life of his father Ellis Marcellus, reflected that the strength of jazz is to master a moment where there is no clear structure and to create beauty with new harmonies, improvised melody lines, and syncopated rhythms. So, with tattoos on our heart , we plunge into a dangerous future.
What we see depends to a large degree, on what we focus upon. If our mindset is insufficiency, our mental model will be limited. Deficiency thinking can:
Predict a negative outcome.
A deficit-based analysis may invite a professional assignment of needs, with a diagnosis and an "evidence-based" stratagem.
If our mindset is abundance, our mental model will expand. Sufficiency thinking:
Establishes a sense of competence;
Makes achievement attainable;
Provides a climate for security, ethical action, generosity and partnership;
Is predictive of a positive outcome.
Devising strategies to change actions to respond to the environmental crisis invites a standard of not more but better. A growth ethos (all are entitled to more: more possessions, more property, more technology, more of the earth's resources) runs counter to the spirit of abundance. Even more employment -- when translated into a proliferation of low-paying jobs that do not meet a decent standard of living, jobs that require excessive hours and stressful commutes, jobs that suck the dignity and joy from work -- do not meet the demands of justice and equality.
Ivan Illich invites "joyful sobriety and liberating austerity". Thomas Aquinas describes austerity in the "Summa Theologica" as "a virtue which does not exclude all enjoyments, but only those which are distracting from or destructive of personal relationships." Austerity is the ability to integrate simplicity and limits into personal and communal lifestyle. It aligns our wants and needs with our personal best interests and the best interests of society.
A commitment to "better" affirms a sense of abundance and sufficiency, whereas an addiction to "more" causes a depletion of resources and environmental deterioration.
In the therapeutic process, hope is a strong ally of healing. At times, when faced with an individual who is deeply depressed, the hope of the therapist is a tool to help that individual find the way out.
What about hope when all is indeed hopeless? This is an important question for when the plight of multitudes offers little to hope for.
In apparently hopeless situations, the first recourse for many helpers is to resort to platitudes. This is analogous to situations when one is faced with a friend or relative who is gravely ill. Pressed to offer consolation yet confronting one's own fears, uncertainty, and sadness over the situation, one tries to console with well-worn platitudes. But -- if one wants real hope to emerge -- he or she simply is present to the sufferer in his or her vigil. Oftentimes, in the shared space of silence and reverence, the very person facing death will gift us by allowing authentic hope to emerge, relating their experience to transcendence and mystery.
It is in times of crisis when hope emerges most forcefully in a community or in an individual. Natural disasters give witness to the hope of survivors who acknowledge the need for a Higher Power.
Writing from a Christian perspective, Jon Sorbino identifies an authentic hope that is part of the victim experience. The eschatological linkage of the cross and resurrection of the Christ provides a bias towards the "victory of justice". In the face of the immense "scandal" of injustice, the call is to "make the hope of victims our hope". And their hope, in turn, becomes their gift to us.
THE COURAGE TO LOVE
Paolo Freire taught that that the opposite of love is not indifference; the opposite of love is fear. It is fear that anchors pervasive trauma in the heart of society. Nelson Mandela says, "Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it."
The courage to love in the midst of desperation does not minimize the gravity of current situations. It evokes those "heart tools" that undermine the desperation that oppresses those bereft of all other available tools.
Oppressors come in many forms: the minority of the rich and powerful that plunder the earth and keep the majority in poverty and misery; the paternalistic structures of the Church that stifle creativity and change; the profiteers from rampant commercialism; the agents of prejudice in all its forms.
But there are more intimate oppressors that we sometimes overlook: those parts of our personality that maintain denial and keep our lives in a pattern of self-destruction; the need to control the thoughts, actions and behaviors of others, particularly those closest to us; the uncritical acceptance of myths and beliefs that create an environment of hopelessness. Self-love. while acknowledging and owning our flaws and weaknesses, at the same time recognizes the beauty, virtue, and strength we possess.
To love the oppressor is to refocus power so that their hold on society or on our lives is transformed. To love the oppressor is first an act of self-liberation. Secondly, it opens the possibility of liberating the oppressor from the ignorance and evil that maintains them in their positions of dominance.
Sr. Joan Chittiser, in an article entitled "Anger: A virtue for our time, because silence is not working", writes that anger is the virtue that seek resolution.
At one time, I taught drug diversion classes for the young recruits of the California Conservation Corps. I would make a list of good things that could be abused. The list included food, sex, sleep, drugs and anger. This provoked a good deal of discussion, not only about how some of the items I included could be abused, but also how I could list "drugs" and "anger" as good things. I also went on to teach anger management, and I would begin my sessions discussing how anger was a positive feature of our human nature ... not what the participants, some court-ordered because of anger-associated violations, expected to hear.
Our negative associations with anger prompt us to control our anger rather than embrace it. Most often anger control implies suppressing angry feelings. In working with grief, I "give permission" for anger (even anger at God) as a natural progression of the grief process. Even here, the anger associated with grief leads to eventual acceptance.
But the anger that is part of resilience, that "virtue that seeks resolution", never leads to acceptance. It invites action.
We are inspired by the front-line health workers in the Coronavirus, who push through their anger and fear and put on protective clothing (if available) in response to their dedication to the welfare of their patients and of the broader society.
We are encouraged by (and perhaps even awakened by and educated by) the energy and positivity of the youth, who are rallying in defense of the environment. Their young brains are not overwhelmed with worry, despite their concern; and it is their concern that impels them to confront entrenched social and political beliefs and practices that are borne out in environmental destruction.
At this writing, the basketball great, Stephen Curry, and his wife, Ayesha, are making significant strides in provoking food for the needy children in Oakland, California (where I was raised and where the Golden State Warriors were perennial basketball champions.) Shelby Delaney, a nurse at Alta Bates Medical Center in Oakland said, “These past few weeks have been filled with chaos and uncertainty as coronavirus cases continue to rise and hospital resources become more and more scarce. I found myself feeling powerless and defeated. It was in that moment that I knew I needed to summon my inner warrior. So I threw on my Steph jersey under my scrubs and started brainstorming how I could be part of the solution.”
THE STRUGGLE FOR JUSTICE
The Spanish word for "power" is poder, also translated as "to be able". Agency comes from a Latin word agere, meaning "to do" or "to act". Even when we are aware that our activity will not have immediate impact -- maybe in our own lifetime -- at the same time, we can take action to control what we can. (And who knows what forces for change await alignment to break through perceived failure!)
Surrender to higher power is an adjunctive companion to in the struggle. Surrender and control need not mutually exclude each other. Together they form a powerful partnership in the endeavor.
The struggle for environmental justice manages the traumatic messages that increasingly bombard us. We can begin by controlling what is within the immediate limitations of our ability, such as our use of resources and our wasteful habits.
Even the way we eat can be modified to conform with environmental justice. I used to commute through the California delta. In the first years of my commute, I would drive by the world's richest asparagus fields. Many campesinos did the back-breaking work of harvesting individual spears with specially designed asparagus knives. (I recall seeing crop dusters spraying insecticides close to the fields where workers were hunched over.) Then it was discovered that asparagus could be grown more profitably in other countries (with the use of insecticides banned in the United States.) It did not take long for those acres that nourished rich asparagus to be replaced by acre upon acre of corn, not the Brentwood sweet corn for which my community is noted, but thickly grown stalks of corn to be used as fodder for cattle. (As I drove by, I often reflected on how the harvest to feed bovine could meet the needs of people who suffer from hunger.)
 Sorbino, “Christ the Liberator” , Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2001.
 National Catholic Reporter, April 3-16, 2020, pg 13