Resilience and Stoicism

Melbourne University Press’ Little Books, Big Themes series has added an essay on resilience by the daughter of a holocaust survivor who migratred to Australia. Elizabeth Whynhausen describes the resilience of her mother and family, drawing on the traits of: a resolute exceptance of reality, a sense that life is meaningful, and an exceptional ability to improvise. With clear sighted wit, Whynhausen suggests that resilience gets such good press that we tend to gloss over that the tendency of resilient people to view problems from a different perspective may also lead them to become a “little too inventive in finding solutions”.  This latter resonates with the work of economic behaviourists who note that an economic theory of criminality can be derived from the daily behaviours and choices of all of us, well perhaps the most resilient of us.

Whynhausen’s essay has been lauded for her clear recognition of the difference between stoicism and resilience. Stoicism creating a mask of indifference to pain, perhaps allowing it to manifest in a number of other ways. Resilience meaning accepting the pain and bouncingback with affirmation for the beauty of life.

Resilience not only allows people to pick themselves up from difficulties, but to advance through the exploration of new pathways. Stoicism helps them to stay on an ethical path, doing less harm to others along the way. Resilience helps us laugh in the face of trauma. Stoicism helps us stop crying in the face of unending grief.

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