Resilience or Adaptability - Focusing Action to Create a Desirable Future

The following article was written last May.  My thinking has evolved since then, which you'll see in future posts. -s

Resilience as a concept for a desirable future is out of vogue, and here's why.  We, quite rightly, are careful about the words we choose to define our goals because they focus our actions to achieve them.  One of the words in vogue these days is "resilience."   Here is a description of resilience from a report, Resilience and Sustainable Development: Building Adaptive Capacity in a World of Transformations.

Resilience, for social-ecological systems, is related to (a) the magnitude of shock that the system can absorb and remain within a given state, (b) the degree to which the system is capable of self-organization, and (c) the degree to which the system can build capacity for learning and adaptation.

It's worth noting that resilience is not needed for adaptation to a steady state. The whole point of needing resilience is that the external state is DEFINITELY NOT STEADY (nor is the internal these days, for that matter), and not steady is apparently a bad thing.  Those of us working in Northeast Ohio might do well to focus some of our planning and actions on building the region's capacity for learning and quick adaptation to have survival-enhancing impact.

Regarding point b), it seems to me that the ability to self-organize actually means to the ability to self-RE-organize. A goal of increased "resilience" (and "sustainability" for that matter) is logical for preparedness, but it's not desirable. 
One issue here is how we use language and the value (or lack thereof) we place on understanding scientific concepts and clear, precise communication. When speaking about a person, we commonly use the word resilient to mean " tending to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change." This is not what the physics definition is. (See for starters.) In the same way that we use unscientific meanings for negative and positive feedback, we can make ourselves understood by others, but we are missing the connection to the natural world and the intelligence inherent in it. (See for instance what science tells us about positive and negative feedback loops and their impact on the stability of systems. (See and  

So resilient responses to adversity are helpful, but resilience is not something wonderful or (that other word we hear a lot lately) transformational. Transformation of the region may not actually be enough since, technically, transformation has only to do with the appearance, or perhaps organization, of the entity. (See It might really freak people out, but conscious, choiceful transmutation is probably closer to what is needed. (Again, see

If we mean  our goal should be increasing our "adaptability," perhaps we should start using that word and tap into the strength that comes from telling the truth. We don't expect kids to be resilient to move from middle to high school. We expect them to adapt and keep on moving! 
While listening to people talk about resistance to change, it seems to me that people can't live to be 10, let alone 50, without having changed quite a bit. The problem isn't change - it's the inability to picture what one is changing to. It is an experience of facing personal non-existence until one gets into that next stage long enough to find out whom they have become. The more I think about it, the more I am in favor of promoting adaptability and creativity as our learning edges and future-creating goals*.  Designing our future, each of us -- and all of us together -- can adapt to each new situation, even while leaving our comfort zones behind, promises the comfort of not being alone and not being victims.

*This would also, by the way, put science in its rightful place as servant of decision making. We can frame our co-created future in line with our most noble human values.


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