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Monday / June 25

Resiliency: Slinky, Silly Putty, and Rubber Bands

Contributed by Kikanza Nuri-Robins

Resiliency is the set of qualities and characteristics that enable people to adjust to, adapt to, and recover from change, personal trauma, and the dramas of life. Resiliency is elasticity of character. Once broken or damaged, you need reconstruct yourself. And in order to do that, you have to be resilient. What symbolizes your type of resiliency? Silly Putty? Rubber bands? How about Slinky? Slinky stretches and can take some abuse. However, it can easily become twisted or broken with no more capacity to stretch.

Rubber bands work only when there is some tension—only when it is stretched, can you determine its quality. You can twist it, and bend it and pull it. You can use it to hold things or propel things. Yet, once you release the tension, it snaps back into its original shape. If it is too stiff, instead of stretching when tension is applied, it breaks. As it ages it loses its resiliency and it does not return completely to its original form, but it still clearly will be a rubber band with definite shape and structure. Rubber bands will keep on adjusting, holding things together and snapping back to their original shape, unless of course, there is extreme tension, in which case the rubber band will break.


“Resiliency is elasticity of character”

Silly Putty, on the other hand, will take on the shape of anything you put it in, yet on its own it is just an amorphous mass without substance or resilience. It starts with no basic shape, so it has nothing to return to, and because it has no shape of its own, it never looks the same. Silly Putty can survive in an environment that is rapidly changing, but you never know in what shape it will end. Silly Putty is flexible, pliable, and adaptable; but it is not resilient. If you pull on it sharply, it breaks. Resilient people may be a little snappy sometimes, but they will thrive during change. People who are more like Silly Putty may appear to be adjusting, but without any external support they don’t move and can’t sustain the change.

Toons—the characters in cartoons—are almost the epitome of resilience because they always survive the violence to which they are subjected. No matter how often they are smashed to pieces, they reconstruct themselves and move on. They are physically resilient, but they don’t have resiliency of character. They reconstruct themselves in the same way after each crisis—with the same flaws and with no apparent learning. They keep making the same mistakes; they keep getting bashed in the same way. 

Resiliency implies the ability to reconstitute oneself amidst change and transitions—but with some learning. So in the midst of the change around you, it is important to nurture the character traits that allow you to be resilient: flexibility, open-mindedness, clarity of values, the ability to prioritize and re-prioritize when necessary, focus on goals, and willingness to identify and correct your mistakes.

© 2015 Kikanza Nuri-Robins

Kikanza Nuri-Robins

Kikanza J. Nuri-Robins is an organizational development consultant. She has spent her career working with schools, churches, hospitals and not-for-profit organizations helping them to become healthy, productive, diverse and inclusive. She began her career teaching elementary school and secondary reading. She has taught social foundations for schools of education and has provided professional development in schools and districts throughout the United States. She is co-author of Corwin bestsellers Culturally Proficient Instruction and Cultural Proficiency.

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