One of the first things they teach you in the Army is resilience. The best way to teach this involves pain and discomfort. My many encounters with this lesson were ingrained in my mind, as was the point of most things the Army (or life) teaches you. Resilience is not handed to you when you graduate high school or college; it is earned in our weakest moments. We can build a better foundation against future deprivation through these challenging times.
In a Drill Sergeant’s mind, they are making you “hard.” Getting you ready for the inevitable hardship of war and loss. My first experience and lesson #1 of resilience was about a week into basic training in the Fall of 2009 when we had to stand outside in a rigid position for 3+ hours. Any movement would add more time to that clock, and it was misery. Think about your young children and how even a 1-minute timeout is excruciating; it is a simple lesson. Others learn a similar lesson playing contact and endurance sports. Mile seven of the run isn’t fun, and neither is sprinting in football gear, but it builds toughness. That toughness does not equate to resilience, but it is that first step and the beginning of the journey.
Lesson #2 is combining pain and discomfort with decision-making. This is often referred to as “courage under fire.” As I sit here writing this, I’m looking out my window at a weakened version of a European hedgerow. I recall the feelings of the 101st Airborne Division, who just ten days from now, 77 years ago, would be trapped in one of the more brutal battles in WW2, Bastogne. The utter discomfort and pain they felt covered lesson #1, but they also had to repel and defeat the enemy. Survival instincts are built and tempered under the duress of problematic situations. It makes us understand that being resilient means we must overcome and get beyond what we are going through. We must place within ourselves the ability to make decisions even when under immense pressure. Risk assessments and contingency plans help alleviate all the thought needed when we are in that “battle mode.” Still, the true courage under fire comes from the trust and belief in one’s abilities, a staple in the lessons of true resilience.
Lesson #3 combines the previous plus one tiny word, loss. It is such a simple word, loss, but it truly bears a lot of our understanding of resilience. To stay true to the previous analogies of war often comes the loss of life. When a brother falls in combat, it is almost like you lose a piece of yourself, and if we were talking about the emotional complexities of that feeling, we would look here. We must push through that loss and get to the end of that path. Psychologically your mind is battling many things through lesson three, and it is essential to remember the instincts you learned from lesson one; the pain will go away. To be genuinely resilient through lesson three, we cannot quit, we cannot falter, we cannot despair.
The great thing about the military form of resilience training is that it runs parallel to a civilian world. It is a different dimension and often more challenging to push through but similar, nevertheless. Items and lessons above also happen outside of the military. That physical pain can be replaced with equal hostile surroundings of large projects and short timelines for clients, professors, or bosses. Resilience is not always learned at a young age; in fact, it may never be added to your repertoire. The powerful have not struggled throughout history and learned true resilience as they prey on the weak or less fortunate. We must remember this one fact, that to be resilient means that in order to exit from that difficulty, the path must not be built on the backs of others. We cannot say we overcame that misfortune but left others in our dust. For truly, the resilient view friendships and partnerships as the wall of their castle. Fear and escapism are not defenses in removing those hardships from our lives.
A final thought and is that resilience should be seen as a virtue. As we know, virtues are not easily acquired either. The battles we face through the three lessons can (and should) be offered up for the less fortunate. As we know, no matter the situation we are in, someone always has it worse, and in that belief, we cannot pity ourselves into believing that our hardship is the worst version of that situation. The temptation to quit could be seen as the antonym of resilience. No matter your personal view and whom you deem as the harbinger of that temptation, it is a real obstacle in overcoming the pains of lesson one, the decisions of lesson two, and overcoming the loss of lesson three. We cannot let the weakness of that temptation permeate our will, for without our will, we are, but dogs in a storm scared at the sound of our own voice.