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A Resilient Society, by Joyroots

joyroots house of resilience

A Resilient Society, by Joyroots

One of the great things about writing Ekostories is that I come across the musings of very thoughtful people within the blogging community. They often serve as the germs of inspiration for my own essays. While ruminating on the notion of resilience in individuals and cultures in last week’s Avatar: The Last Airbender piece, I came across an excellent essay, courtesy of, that explores the idea of social resilience in great detail. While the piece is lengthy, the content is written in accessible language, brilliantly organized, and filled with thoughtful hypotheticals, historical anecdotes, and insightful visuals. Here are some of the excerpts:

Why is resilience so important?

While it’s nearly impossible to foresee and plan for every future event, there are attributes that can help a person or system to better adapt to any change, and find fulfillment in the vast range of circumstance that the world tends to offer. Because the impact of change on our lives often depends on the gap between our expectations and our reality, one could go so far as to say that lack of resilience is one of the key causes of suffering, whether starvation and disease in the wake of overtaxing the environment, or economic depression in the wake of over-sold debt.

On resilient individuals:

If a system momentarily weakens or breaks down, if the individuals within it are hardy, they can rebuild. A community of weak individuals, unable to provide for themselves or others, unskilled, unhealthy and unhappy, will always struggle, even with some of the other elements in place—but should the system that supports them falter, even for a moment, it cannot be rebuilt, because the people that are a part of it cannot live even a short while without it. A resilient community depends on the resilience of its members. More actively, a resilient community will foster it. Education, health, mobility—by giving these things to our neighbors, we ensure a stronger neighborhood for ourselves.

Resiliency versus efficiency:

Looking across these dynamics, it’s hard to ignore the sharp contrast between the contributors to social resilience and the values often prized in our modern system. Efficiency, optimization, specialization are often the buzzwords of the day. This is not idle theorization—these values are rapidly replacing more resilient forms of social life across the world, from villages in rural Africa and China to the close-knit towns of Europe and the US. None of these are easy questions—it may well be that the capabilities gained from technological innovation or the build-up of physical capital gives us a greater ability to respond to crises than they undermine via the system necessary to create them. In other words, a program of radical economic simplification started in the 50s likely never would have seen the birth of the internet, which may ultimately offset the damage inherent in its creation. Nevertheless, if we want to create resilient communities for ourselves and our children, understanding and prizing what contributes to that resilience (and what does not) is a good place to start. We may even find that a society that’s more resilient can be more beautiful too.

I encourage you to check the piece out in its entirety and think about resilience as it pertains to nature, culture, and self.


  1. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. Resilience is a tremendously important quality and feature for both individuals and communities.

  2. maryalive says

    I really like your thoughts on this, although I think a more I depth definition of “resilience” is important. I believe I know what your taking about because I don’t think I could be traveling the way I am and be doing the things I do without some amount of resilience. But what does it mean?

    • Hi Mary,

      To me, resilience in individuals refers to their ability to cope with and bounce back from stress and adversity, a buffer that they create that helps them continue to function and adapt even when times are bad. There’s an interesting definition for psychological resilience from Wikipedia that ties individual and community resilience together as intertwined processes:

      “… resilience is best understood as a process. It is often mistakenly assumed to be a trait of the individual, an idea more typically referred to as “resiliency”. Most research now shows that resilience is the result of individuals being able to interact with their environments and the processes that either promote well-being or protect them against the overwhelming influence of risk factors. These processes can be individual coping strategies, or may be helped along by good families, schools, communities, and social policies that make resilience more likely to occur. In this sense “resilience” occurs when there are cumulative “protective factors”. These factors are likely to play a more and more important role the greater the individual’s exposure to cumulative “risk factors”. The phrase “risk and resilience”‘ in this area of study is quite common.”

    • Please direct any praise for the piece to the author at their blog 🙂

      From the article:
      “The most resilient type of society may now be available to us for the first time in history, by combining some of the knowledge and capital gained during the industrial build-up of Western society with the de-centralization, integration with natural cycles and high community cohesion of a low-tech resilient society.”

      I must confess, I’m not familiar enough with the Nordic model to see if it truly fulfills all of these criteria, but I could see it.

      • Good point:-) I meant that you post is a great summary of some key points of the very long article on Joyroots, which I haven’t read in all detail.

        It is particularly this quote that made me think of the Nordic welfare society:

        A resilient community depends on the resilience of its members. More actively, a resilient community will foster it. Education, health, mobility—by giving these things to our neighbors, we ensure a stronger neighborhood for ourselves.

        ‘Social resilience’ sounds much like the underlying idea of the Scandinavian welfare societies. There might be some variation in what these societies offers, so I’ll concentrate on the Danish version, which I know intimately because I’m Danish.

        – Education is free and of high quality in Denmark, including high education. The State actually pays you a salary when you study, that covers your living costs (plus a cheap study loan if you need more). If you do a PhD, you’ll earn a decent salary for doing that (but not everybody get accepted, obviously). If you study abroad the Danish State still pays you the allowance so you can pay for your living costs abroad. Recently the law has changed, so the Danish state now even contributes towards paying the overseas tuition fees for Danish students. Until a few years ago, foreigners could also study for free on Danish universities. They could hardly believe it.

        – A safety net with fairly solid unemployment benefits. Also, if you work as a casual worker and get sick, the State will pay you sick allowance on the days you can’t work.

        – Universal free health care of high quality, including advanced specialist services, institutions, many types of services such as for example in-home help and go-out companionship for disabled people to ensure they are able to take active part in society, study, go to meetings and so on.

        Exception from free health care: dental care

        – Effective public infrastructure & public transport of high quality – not free, but somewhat subsidised. In Copenhagen there’s a strong emphasis on environment friendly transport forms (public transport and bicycles) and some parts of the city is PT and bicycles only. Bicycles is a standard means of transport, and the infrastructure of bicycle lanes is excellent compared to many other places.

        – There is a strong focus on improving sustainability, ecology and social responsibility at all levels of society, and the focus isn’t limited to Denmark.

        My point isn’t that the Scandinavian countries meet all the criteria, but that the ‘social resilience’ idea is an integral part of how these societies are designed.

        Why give people a free and even paid education? Surely some will enrol in an expensive education just because they haven’t figured out what they want to do, and then they get paid to do that and have sort of a frame of their life. Maybe they’ll never use the degree in a job. However, the point is to have a resilient society of highly educated, healthy, smart people who are able and willing to work for the benefit of everybody and think about what’s right and wrong, not just focussing on surviving day by day doing what they have always done, and ending up in a state of panic when their world changes.

        Downsides of the welfare society:

        – Heavy taxation

        – Some people are lazy and ignorant and adopt an ‘entitlement’ mentality rather than a commitment to social responsibility


        Here is a somewhat related article: The Secret Scandinavian Ingredient that Makes Their Tech Good for the World. It is about technological development and not disaster response, and it is written by an outsider who doesn’t get the ingredients of Scandinavian culture totally right, but she’s got the community mentality right – that people create things just for the sake of building something, rather than for economic growth and narrow personal gains. Basically, society is a strong fabric, and whenever something unexpected happens there is plenty of calm, healthy, competent people available to work out solutions and get the best out of it.

        Ps. Despite what it might sound like from the above, this isn’t supposed to be a glowing/fanatic praise of the Scandinavian welfare model. I am just trying to outline the basic idea. There are plenty of downsides too.

    • Thanks very much for a comprehensive explanation from a Danish perspective, Mados. I learn a lot from detailed and thoughtful comments such as yours.

      There’s definitely a quality of resilience in emphasizing the cultivation of a well-educated citizenry that doesn’t need to worry about day to day subsistence and can adapt to the challenges of a rapidly changing world. Fear and ignorance have a harder time undermining the foundations of such a society too.

      • Ahem… unfortunately not, it seems. Denmark is fairly xenophobic IMO (and homogenous… when I was a kid, I barely ever saw anyone in the streets who wasn’t white and Danish-looking).

        • That’s a shame. Upon reflection, it is probably much easier to stitch together a strong community fabric when everyone is from a single culture, as opposed to one with people from all over the world with different value systems. New ideas and ways of doing things, for good or for bad, probably have a harder time getting through.

          Thanks for giving me stuff to think about.

  3. Resilience is such an important subject. The word seems to have much more appeal to a broader group of people than sustainability. I’ll have to check out the article to read more of their view of resilience. I wrote a short book called the Seven Foundations of a Resilient Livelihood because I believe we are too short-sighted about what resilience means for ourselves and society. Thanks for your great summary!

    • Hi Karen,

      I do think resiliency is a more readily understood and positive concept. For me, it implies a hidden and flexible strength, whereas sustainability carries with it a connotation of preservation and stasis.

      But both terms are tough sells for those who still value efficiency and growth as the only qualities worth pursuing.

      is your book linked on your blog? I would like to check it out.

  4. That’s a shame. Upon reflection, it is probably much easier to stitch together a strong community fabric when everyone is from a single culture, as opposed to one with people from all over the world with different value systems. New ideas and ways of doing things, for good or for bad, probably have a harder time getting through.

    That might play a role… I guess it is easier to design & stick to collective rules and visions when people aren’t too diverse.

    Also, the system’s resilience relies on a certain cultural attitude, a moral commitment to not exploiting the system (too much).

    There is also the perception that foreigners who haven’t grown up with such a ‘free goods’ system haven’t developed the required cultural self-discipline and respect for the system, so they just think ‘wow… here I can be paid to have holiday all the time!’ and totally overload the system so it breaks down. While unemployed they develop depressions, self-loathe (converted into hating Western culture and the Danish system) and family problems. I am talking about primarily Muslim immigrants from middle Eastern cultures, which seems to be the main group of non-Scandinavian immigrants in Denmark and the primary source of controversy*. The bleak picture is enforced by the fact that the immigrants often find it hard to find employment in Denmark, so they actually often do rely on Danish version of ‘the dole’ in many cases.


    *all this is from the top of my head, not underpinned by stats or other objective data

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