Beyond Borders: The revolution must be resilient

Beyond Borders is TEDxLondon’s exploration of different topics and ideas that inspire and intrigue us. In this edition, we examine the role of resilience as we fight for a fairer, greener future.

If there is one thing that the last six months have made clear, it is that surviving the human experience can sometimes feel like a collective endurance test with no sign of a finishing line.

Many people are looking at the events of 2020 as an enforced corrective to our previous behaviour: grounding our flights, halting our businesses, highlighting systemic injustices and forcing us to reevaluate our responsibility to the planet and to each other.

This process is as painful as it is necessary, as exhausting as it is exhilarating. But in order to be truly worthwhile, it needs to lead to lasting transformation across individuals, businesses, systems and societies. Whether it’s meeting our urgent climate goals, imagining a better future for refugees, demanding racial justice or securing essential rights for LGBTQIA people, we need to shift our focus from short-term gains to long-term change.

How can we stay both determined and agile in the face of adversity, and work together to create a fairer, greener future?

The answer lies in cultivating resilience.

Used to describe individuals, organisations and even economies, resilience is the ability to rally and strengthen in the face of hardship. From entrepreneurs bouncing back after a failed idea, to refugees overcoming immense trauma to rebuild their lives in a new land, resilience is a key component of every remarkable achievement and inspirational story throughout human history.

The good news is we are not born with a finite amount of resilience. In fact, far from being an internal reservoir that we can drain dry, resilience is a quality that can be cultivated throughout our lives, sustaining and nourishing us as we resist, revolt and build a better world.

Four steps to cultivating resilience

1. Surrender

While it may sound counter-intuitive, the first step in building resilience is to reject denial and surrender to the reality of the situation in front of you. Don’t feel you have to engage in what TED speaker Susan David calls the “tyranny of positivity”: instead, allow yourself to feel the full spectrum of your emotions, so you can face what comes next with honesty and courage

2. Connect

Resilience is much easier when you are not alone. Take time to connect with loved ones, particularly those who allow you to be yourself and make you laugh (the best stress relief!). If you’re self-isolating, why not organise a virtual exercise class, pub quiz or coffee morning with friends and family? If you’re able to get out and about safely, try a socially-distanced walk or trip to the park to lift your mood. If you’re feeling the strain of recent events, this is also a good time to get professional support by making an appointment with a therapist.

Remember The Ring Theory

When connecting with others during difficult times, remember The Ring Theory. The person or people most impacted by a particular trauma is at the centre, surrounded by circles of increasing size, relating to those who are second most impacted, third most impacted, and so on. Wherever you sit on the diagram, you should provide comfort inwards and only turn outwards to share your own worries. This protects the person (or people) at the centre of the trauma from taking on the worries of those less affected.

3. Reflect

As our Instagram and Twitter feeds overflow with posts promoting activism, social media has become both a powerful tool for change and a slippery slope towards burnout. This is particularly true for those in marginalised groups – many of whom have been at the forefront of activist work for generations. Take time away from your phone to relax, read and reflect. A tried-and-tested practice is to name three things you’re grateful for in the present moment, helping you to reframe your reality and tap into a more optimistic headspace.

4. Act

The resilient person’s mantra is to change what you can and accept what you can’t. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, take one action to regain a sense of control and remind yourself of your own agency. This could be related to your activism, such as writing to your MP or signing a petition; it could be a calming ritual, such as a five-minute meditation or taking the dog for a walk; or it could be a simple act of self-care, such as making your bed or having a shower. As long as it’s helping, rather than harming you, no act is too small to make a difference to your mindset.

Resilient activism embodied

L-R: Lady Phyll, Founder & Executive Director, UK Black Pride; Hassan Akkad, Syrian refugee, filmmaker and activist; Munroe Bergdorf, model and activist; Sarah Mardini, Syrian refugee, student, interpreter and search and rescue swimmer.


Further resources: Bouncing back

Why children are our most powerful hope for change | Onjali Rauf | TEDxLondonWomen