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Toughing it Out
Anushka Bhaskar (18) and Anchal Bhaskar (16) take Resilience 101.
Anushka: Hi everyone! We have a new member of the Young Philosophers team, my dear friend Anchal. As we progress through these first few months of 2019, we’ve been inspired to reflect on something that proved to be extremely important in 2018 for young and not-so-young people alike.
Anchal: It’s called resilience.
Anushka: Whether you’re a college freshman like me, making the tough transition away from home and into the first stages of the adult world, a high school sophomore like Anchal, or neither of the above, we’ve all had a lot to worry about in 2018.
Anchal: In the face of difficult politicians, increasing hate crime, economic downturns, wars, the impending doom of climate change, or even a breakup, rejection, or failure of some personal sort there are all sorts of things people have to wake up to and deal with each and every day.
Anushka: We all have the ability to push past our problems. When we refuse to budge in the face of our obstacles, something’s gotta give, and it won’t be us. But how? Getting knocked down is tiring. But we need to identify how exactly we’re supposed to keep getting up again when it sometimes feels like we’re bowling pins in a never-ending game played by a world champion bowler! Let’s draw from the pages of philosophy to see how we can learn the grit we need.
Anchal: Let’s first look at the dictionary definition of ‘resilience’. Webster’s dictionary quotes resilience as being “The capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress”.
Marcus Aurelius and friend
Anushka: The dictionary has life nailed! In one way, life seems to be a series of compressive stresses. Little stresses and big stresses alike can combine to make us feel like we’re out of control and waiting to get back to real life. But life is what’s happening to us when we’re busy waiting for things to restabilize. So we need to get really good at accepting this process of molding.
Anchal: To help us achieve this we’re going to speak with Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD), Stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD. He once wrote, “For the mind adapts and converts everything that impedes its activities into something that advances its purpose, and a hindrance to its action becomes an aid, and an obstacle on its path helps it on its way.” What does this mean, and how does this pertain to us?
Anushka: Marcus is telling us that humans have a seemingly superhuman ability to overcome obstacles and difficulties. But it’s less about overcoming them, and more about accepting them as a part of what molds us. Everything that seems to be against us we can actually use to empower us. Reframing, re-energizing, and keeping the right mentality are key. Half the battle is that we need to keep on the path and refuse to give up. Tough times don’t last, but tough people do!
Anchal: Many of the adversities we’ll face will be horrible, and the idea of accepting our set-backs as character-forming is definitely easier said than done. But there are also other frameworks which can help us understand how to deal with what life throws our way. Buddhism outlines an extremely interesting way to tread in the face of suffering and challenges. The Buddha talked about the eightfold path, and one of the folds he discussed was ‘right effort’.
Anushka: Buddha said that to remain at peace and on track we should maintain a balance between pushing ourselves to the extreme and giving up. We need to be mindful of maintaining the right balance between picking ourselves up and moving forward, and indulging in the emotional pain or suffering our failure or setback has caused us. So if being resilient is feeling like too much of a burden, then we need to reevaluate our approach. There should be a sense of ownership over our effort to improve; and with the right, mindful balance, we can own the growth that comes from falling down and getting up again.
Anchal: When we hear that in order to grow we should ‘fail early, fail often’, we’re hearing a reference to the human ability to build resilience. We also need to remember that failure appears in ways that are difficult to confront, and often extremely overwhelming. So when things get tough, know that you’re trudging through the muck to become stronger! Show the muck that you don’t mind getting down and dirty!
Anushka: We understand that this whole process takes lots of trial and error. We ourselves are trying to apply these ideas of resilience and right effort into our own lives in order to stand up under little stresses and big stresses alike. We hope to inspire a mentality of resilience and grit like this in ourselves and others because we youth are not only the future, but the present as well. So let’s take on the challenges of the present to be just that – a present - and that way we can all come out of the woods with smiles on our faces. Bring it on, life!
© Anushka Bhaskar & Anchal Bhaskar 2019
Anushka is a freshman at Harvard and Anchal is a high school sophomore in Orange County, CA.