Resilience is needed in war and old age: this is a new insight for me. I was listening to a Radio NZ interview with Dr Alia Bojilova, a psychologist and previous officer with New Zealand’s Special Air Service. Ten years ago she was, with two colleagues, taken hostage in a war zone and talked her way out of it within hours. I was struck by how closely her analysis of resilience resembled the modus operandi of Mrs Doris Carnevali, a blogger in her late nineties. Their recent life styles could hardly be more different, and yet they have one mighty trait in common: resilience.
Everything rhymes with “old”. Even resilience!
What fosters resilience?
Dr Bojilova has identified four factors that lead to resilience, and she and Mrs Carnevali share them all. I’ll just mention a couple that I remember from the interview. Then I’ll read the book, The Resilience Toolkit, and maybe you will too.
The crucial link between curiosity and resilience
Dr B: “No matter the situation, there is always something little we can do to improve our predicament. To journey intentionally as opposed to be a victim from the start.” This describes Mrs C’s approach to life perfectly. She has not been kidnapped at gunpoint, no. But almost every day experiences some age-related change that hinders her from doing some ordinary activity. Over the five years of her blog, Mrs C. records encountering multiple new and difficult situations, and finding “something little she could do to improve her predicament.” Curiosity is at the forefront: Exactly what was going wrong? And exactly what could she do about it?
Mrs C: “I am a 95-year-old woman who was coasting along with the flow of life and then one day thought,’I wonder what difference it would make if I were to engage actively with the process of aging. Scrutinize the details. Interact with it differently.’ And that’s just what I began to do. I called this new process of scrutiny and response engaging with aging, and it began to add zest, intrigue, and comedy to life.”
Keep your self-respect in war and old age
Dr B. also spoke about self-respect as an important component of resilience. Try to keep your dignity, which starts with self-esteem. How very difficult this must be when you are lying in the dust at gun-point — or when your hands are not strong enough to cut up your own food at the dinner table, or you can’t hear what’s being said, or you can’t put on your shoes.
Mrs C. blogged on several occasions about her struggles to maintain self esteem, credibility, personal dignity. As always, she brings curiosity (and clarity) to the problem and finds various ways to “improve her predicament”. She has repeatedly shown resilience — not at war but in extreme old age.
These are just two points I recall, and now I’m keen to get the big picture.
Because when I’m 95, like Mrs Carnevali when she started her blog about “engaging with aging”, I will need resilience by the truckload. I’ve been learning from Mrs Carnevali for several years. Now I will learn from Dr Bojilova what I’ve learned and what I still need to learn.
The 12 nonagenarians that I interviewed for my new play also showed this character trait of resilience. They were dealing with all sorts of very difficult physical, emotional, and mental conditions. Dealing with them! That was a phrase that kept coming up. Bereavement, cancer, poverty, spinal stenosis, family tragedies — they spoke of these hard conditions almost casually, stoically. Life brings troubles: you deal with them.Follow Write Into Life