Tag Archives: Kauai Longitudinal Study

Resilience and the importance of Role Models in providing road maps

My last post briefly looked at how older people – I like the term ‘elders’ rather than the usual descriptor ‘the elderly – are not simply a passive risk group but should be viewed and treated as active agents and potential assets in Emergency Preparedness. I mentioned how their decades-long experiences can contribute to being able to find and build on optimism and today I’d like to expand on this by looking at the importance of role models in resilience. Traditionally, role models tend to be seen as older people one looks up (often relatives) to but of course this is only a limited view. Nowadays it is easier than ever to find positive role models of all ages and backgrounds across a many diverse areas.

Everybody needs resilient, positive role models – not just children

Last January when this blog started, I introduced you to Emmy Werner and Ruth Smith who ran one of the first longitudinal resilience studies (see the Resilience – Nature or Nurture post ). They reported what has been confirmed many times since:

resilient individuals have role models whose beliefs, attitudes and behaviours inspire them

Research in teens repeatedly shows that those with role models have a better attitude towards school, better grades and attendance, greater maturity and better mental health with less depression and anxiety (Southwick et al, 2006) . Surely it’s no stretch to claim the same is true for adults of all ages. From where I stand, I see it as only natural that we can all benefit from encouragement from mentors and role models whose behaviour – words and action – motivate and inspire us to continue to learn, adapt and grow. Where children initially learn right and wrong as a foundations of morality, as teens and adults we continue to hone our skills to control impulses, delay gratification and find as well as create healing for ourselves and others.

Your Role Models – who inspires you and why?

some role modelsHow about you? Where do you draw your role models from?

You’ll laugh when I tell you that, personally, I can think back to a long string of personal heroes beginning with – unsurprisingly for my era – Wonder Woman. Yes – ‘oh dear’ indeed! I am no closer to being like her now than back then nor would I ever want to be – and not simply because of  body image and wardrobe issues.

However, Wonder Woman along with many of my real world heroes (i.e. in no particular order Henry Dunant, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, Shunmyo Masuno, May Sarton, Malala Yousafzai) continue to inspire me to connect, never lose interest, courage and the ability to question but also accept.

Role Models do not have to be older, wiser or perfect

Role models do not have to be perfect – actually quite the opposite holds, I believe. Everyone has their own unique strengths and weaknesses which, unlike flawless fiction super heroes, make them authentic and human and therefore much more valuable in that they are real and accessible. Have you heard of the Well Child Awards and the Pride of Britain Awards? Well, you probably have but for me, as a Swiss, this was certainly new. What a brilliant way to honour and highlight how everyday people do astonishing deeds to inspire us all, irrespective of age or background.

How role modelling works – more than just imitation

Imagination and imitation are powerful forms of learning and shape human behaviour. Throughout our lives we learn by imitating the patterns of thought and behaviour of those around us. Often we are completely unaware that we are doing such observational learning. It is not taught. Rather we simply pick it up merely by being exposed to others and the need to belong and fit in.

Matters are more complex, however, for example Bandura’s social learning theory (1977, 1986) holds that modelling involves more than simply mimicry, imitation or observational learning. He suggested that each person is able to integrate thoughts, values, behaviours and emotional reactions that resemble those of a role model but that it could be adapted to fit the particular personality and circumstances of the learner. Suppose, for example, that you know someone who always seems to handle complex and stressful situations with relative ease. You admire this resilient person and wonder how she or he does it. You intentionally begin to observe their behaviour over time and may notice patterns:

  • actively reaching out to others for help, support and assistance
  • adjusting personal pace to build in additional rest and recharge periods
  • upping diet with extra nutrition and taking additional exercise

This observed pattern you can now turn into a rule or model that you can modify for yourself for use during a variety of stressful situations. Doing so and keeping sensitive to what works best for you, you will develop and enhance your own personal resilience.

 What are the most effective ways of learning from Role Models?

Most people benefit from role models without being fully aware of the processes involved. You don’t need to make it into a science yourself but I believe that by taking a more active and conscious role will have benefits in that you learn quicker, can adapt and modify faster to what works best for you.

Like any new skill you start, begin by breaking it into smaller, more manageable chunks until you become better and more fluid at it:

  • observe the role model behaviour in a variety of settings over time
  • practise yourself in between observations for example by first imagining you possess a desired behaviour, attitude and personality style and then by role play (real life enactment is eventually required for successful imitation)
  • get feedback from someone you trust and that has a good eye. Such a person can point out similarities and differences between your behaviour and the behaviour you are attempting to model and may provide suggestion
  • patience! Don’t give up. Changing your behaviour to fall in line with what you consciously desire rather being driven on automatic takes perseverance

That it’s worth the effort is clear for you will gain immensely in realistic self-assurance and suffer considerably less from the inevitable anxieties that life throws us all.

Curiosity is key – acts of observing, listening, questioning, wondering and modelling. When you stay curious with an open mind and heart about your and other people’s worlds and our responses to shared experiences, then we can truly become role models for each another, building understanding and resilience for all of us.

Wishing you resilience building week full of illuminating observations.

Monika


thank you for sharing and helping raise awareness for Emergency Preparedness and Resilience!

 

References/Resources

  • -Southwick, S.M., Morgan, C.A., Vythilingam, M. & Charney, D. S. (2006). Mentors enhance resilience in at-risk children and adolescents. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 26 (4), 577-584.
  • Bandura, A. (1977) Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall
  • Bandura, A. (1986) Social foundations of thought and action: a social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall

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Altruism and Resilience – a crucial yet complex link and why it pays to be kind

updated 10/06/2017

This week saw yet another round of London tube strikes resulting in transport misery for thousands. More are planned next week and to boot there are Firefighter strikes this weekend.

As I set out mostly on foot these last couple of days I noticed both the short-tempered rudeness and hostility of some but even more so the many acts of random kindness of complete strangers that conveyed a deep sense of unselfish solidarity: we’re all in this together – we might just as well make it more tolerable for one another.
Broken chainIt all got me thinking about the crucial and complex link of altruism and resilience and how this connects up to disaster preparedness – say, when – perhaps because of a major incident – we all may have to grapple with the consequences of transport and supply disruptions on a very different scale for real.

Doing a bit of background reading what struck me immediately is the large amount of evidence that supports my humanistically inclined belief of “help others so that they in turn may help you for you cannot possibly do it all on your own”. To many this may sound rather counter intuitive. After all, simply picture a few survivors stranded on an island with limited resources – the toughest and fittest one survives, right? Well perhaps not but we may soon get some real insight and I for one can hardly wait to see Bear Gryll’s new series “The Island” that starts this Monday, 5th May on Channel 4 at 9pm.

In the meantime, however, let us be a little bit less dramatic and consider that survival is both short – and long-term and take a look at how…

Altruism moderates Life Stresses and predicts your Health Status

Altruism, also called social interest, is associated with better life adjustment, better marital adjustment and satisfaction, less hopelessness and depression overall. Being interested in and committed to wide social networks helps you to moderate stress to such an extent that it becomes a good predictor of your physical health status.

MIT researchers Schwartz and colleagues who made these findings also think that the links between social interest, better mental resilience and reduced stress are in turn related to augmented self-confidence, an increased ability to be able to reframe one’s own experience and perceive greater meaning in life. Yet more evidence comes from the influential Hawaiian longitudinal study I mentioned in my earlier Nature-Nurture post which found that children who helped others in a meaningful way (i.e. assisting a family member, neighbour or some other community member) were the most likely to lead successful lives as adults. In short…

Altruism is intrinsic, reciprocal, fosters Resilience – AND IT PAYS !

A large amount of scientific evidence from infant research, experimental psychology and ethology (study of animal behaviour) suggests that altruism has had an important influence on behaviour throughout history and has real survival value. Altruism represents an interesting and complex interaction of environmental and genetic influences – nature as well as nurture, a healthy dose of both. For example, research amongst some South American native tribes revealed that those individuals who produce and share more food than average are rewarded during times of hardship. This discovery led the well-known psychiatrist Yakov Shapiro to propose that this reciprocal altruism has many benefits and rewards:

  • enhanced reputation and power – leading to
  • greater status, esteem and influence within the community – resulting in
  • privileged access to resources when the community faces catastrophic stress

Another author, Michael Shermer, further supports these evolutionary origins of our moral sense commenting that as a species of social primates we have evolved a deep sense of right and wrong. We reward reciprocity and cooperation and find ways to ‘punish’ selfishness and free riding. This emotional ‘barometer’ may be crucial and a hallmark of how resilient people wrestle with moral dilemmas. Importantly, resilient people are perhaps better able to make difficult moral decisions based on a more balanced approach of both reason and emotion.

Resilient people make more Balanced Decisions ~ What would YOU do?
The classic “runaway trolley” dilemma – Come and Have a Go !

If you can’t see the embedded video – here is the link to YouTube

First Scenario:

cognitivephilosophy.net

Imagine yourself watching a runaway trolley roll down a track towards five strangers who would be killed if the trolley struck them. You have the ability to flip a switch and divert the trolley to another track where just one stranger is standing. If you flip the switch, one person will be killed instead of five. What would you do?

In Joshua Greene’s famous fMRI study most participants said that it was morally right to flip the switch.

 

Second scenario:

cognitivephilosophy.net

Now imagine standing on a footbridge next to a stranger and that five people are trapped below in the path of the same oncoming runaway trolley. Pushing the stranger onto the track is the only way to save the other five people. What would you do? The end result of the two options are identical (one person dies and five survive) yet most of Greene’s participants said they would refuse to push the stranger. In terms of cognitive psychology, the second scenario involves far more emotional processing than the first which is shown in the fMRI scan by greater activation of the limbic brain regions – the same areas that activate during fear, another rather important aspect when considering resilience as discussed in my previous post “Understanding Fear”.

So, what has Moral Reasoning to do with Resilience? Choices are complex !

Choices in a real Emergency or Disaster situation more often than not involve dilemmas much tougher than the above trolley example. Sometimes there simply are no “right” or “better” choices; sometimes there are no good choices at all. Understandably, many a survivor is later haunted by memories and questions of “what else could I have done?” It is important to acknowledge that in some situations there may be no optimal moral choice and that resilience is simply retaining one’s sanity after the extreme hardship has passed. And that requires moral courage.

The Good News: you can learn Moral Reasoning and Moral Courage !

Gus Lee a former corporate whistle-blower and later US Senate ethics investigator writes in his book on Leadership: “…courage is not something with which we are born… courage is a learned quality, an acquirable set of skills, a practiced competence. It is like boxing except it is easier, smells better and causes fewer nosebleeds.”

Where do you begin learning Moral Courage? As easy as 1 – 2 – 3 and right at your doorstep

The Guardian

First, following Rushworth Kidder’s three steps process, you must make an honest self-assessment. We all have core values and beliefs. What are they? Which are the most important? Are you living by these principles and values? Are you falling short and where? Are you motivated to change and can you do so?

Second, take all these points and discuss them with a highly principled person you admire. Such discussions can help you to recognize and analyse situations where your actions have moral implications. It also allows you to honestly and openly explore and evaluate the risks and dangers involved in defending your core values.

Third, practise your moral values and try to uphold them in challenging situations. Stay vigilant because it’s easy to relax your values, make compromises and take short cuts. By doing again and again what you know to be right and evaluating that against the reactions of the people that matter to you in your communities you will build a strong moral compass and moral courage.

This is nothing new really for Aristotle already wrote in his Nicomachean Ethics:

“We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts”

Practise makes Perfect – Simple! And where and when do we do all this? Where better than right at our doorstep in everyday life through many acts of random kindness aka altruism; hopefully reciprocal but one cannot always be greedy – besides, altruism and reciprocity work much better on a ‘grand’ scale when freed from simplistic one to one constraints. It all goes towards making our shared realities on planet earth just this much more tolerable no matter what modern life – and the forces of nature – throw at us.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Plato

Wishing you a happy Bank Holiday weekend full of Moral Courage and plenty of Altruism to continue building your ever increasing Resilience !

Monika

You might also be interested in the TED talk on altruism by Matthieu Ricard


Thank you for sharing.

 

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References:

Resilience – nature or nurture?

bamboo-in-the-wind-sid-solomonPhew! While there have been plenty of man-made ‘disasters’ of one sort or another this week at least there have been no major natural disasters and so I take leisure this Friday to delve a little deeper into the topic of ‘resilience’ as is one of the aims of this blog.

You might remember some of the main points I mentioned that play an important role in resilience: self-awareness, self-regulation, optimism, mental agility, character strengths, connections (read previous post).

You probably read through their descriptions and thought that it makes a lot of intuitive sense. In the context of the recent UK floods I then briefly discussed some aspects of optimism and I hope that if you personally were affected you did find some silver lining in it all. Before I pick upon the next strand however, one important question comes to mind. How can you tell that you are or will be resilient? To what extent is resilience innate? To what extent is resilience learnt? Let me begin by telling you a story.

Michael and Mary (a true resilience story)

… were born in the same place at the same time: 1955, the tropical island of Kauai, a paradise with lush rain forests, glorious mountains and pristine beaches at the northwest end of the Hawaiian Islands. Michael, a premature baby, spent his first three weeks in hospital, separated from his teenage mother. His father was absent with the military until Michael was two. By his eight birthday Michael had three younger siblings, his parents were divorced and his mother had left the island, breaking all family ties. Then there is the story of another child. Mary was born into poverty. Her father was an unskilled farm worker and her mother suffered from mental illness. Mary’s life between the ages of five and ten was one of repeated physical and emotional abuse, punctuated by her mother’s several hospitalisations.

Two children with the odds stacked against them.

And yet, by their eighteenth birthday both Michael and Mary were popular at school, possessed solid moral values and were optimistic about their futures.

Michael and Mary’s story is true although their names have been altered to protect their privacy. It is part of one of the first landmark studies into resilience by Emmy Werner and Ruth Smith who, a long time ago in 1955, began tracking 698 children from their pre-natal months to beyond their thirtieth birthday. Of course, a tremendous amount of research has taken place since. Importantly also, several ways of measuring and predicting resilience have emerged.

Now, before you rush off to measure your own resilience please note that it is a highly complex concept and no single measure is ever perfect. At best it can give an indication – a start, a baseline from where you can begin to explore resilience for yourself. It all begins with self-awareness – and a look at the ‘Resilience Scale’ website (Wagnild and Young) is one way of checking this out, free of charge. On their navigation bar look for ‘Test your Resilience’ and have a go. And in case you’d like to read more about Werner and Smith’s work, check out their book “Overcoming the Odds: High Risk Children from Birth to Adulthood“(1992)

Have a great weekend!

Monika


Thank you for sharing, raising awareness for Resilience and Emergency Preparedness.

For more EVAQ8 blog simply use the right hand navigation. For emergency kits and practical resources use the top navigation. For FREE resources head over to our Preparedness Hub and find out why we use humour. If you like this post, please share it to help raise awareness for Emergency and Disaster Preparedness. Thank you!

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