Resilience

I get knocked down, but I get up again
You’re never gonna keep me down
— Chumbawamba, Tubthumping

In my hierarchy of values, resilience looms large. Societies, systems, and individuals that aspire to longevity must be able to roll with the punches. Not just to get up over and over again like a dummy, as the Chumbawamba lyric implies, but to learn and evolve; to exploit challenges as opportunities to become better.

“Old school” systems thinking — cybernetics (from the Greek word kubernetes, or helmsman) — is the study of how to correct course towards a goal. This requires that the goal be understood; you can’t really steer towards a destination if you don’t know what the destination is. It also requires that you accurately read your present position and direction relative to that destination.

Your body aspires to maintain a core temperature of around 98° F (37° C.) If the environment around you is too hot, you sweat; too cold, and you shiver. At one level, this happens automatically, without your intervention. But you can also consciously intervene to change the situation; you throw on a parka or have a cup of hot cocoa. Over time you learn which actions improve your condition towards your goal relative to particular environmental conditions.

Of course, there’s an implicit pre-requisite: Your senses must be in proper working order for you to accurately “read” the environment. If the outside air is sweltering, and your body somehow perceives it as being very cold, you won’t last long — regardless of how much you “know.”

The ultimate goal is to keep your system from breaking down; to stay alive. If you’re wise, you don’t take sides in this struggle. You’re not aiming for either “hot” or “cold” to win; there’s no “win” at all if the body dies. Longevity is the only game in town as far as your body is concerned.

You know this about your body, but what about the body politic? When it comes to society at large, are you clear on what the goal is? Do you have a good read on the environment? (How do you know?) What actions can you take to correct course when things threaten to go the wrong way? Do you have the agency to enact those changes? What can you do to ensure society functions well in the long term? (And what does “function well” mean to you?)