Former POW @JohnNicholRAF asked me for thoughts on resilience in hostile situations…

Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from difficulties, tough situations and change. It’s about bouncing back and getting up one more time than we fall over. A material like nylon’s a good example, it’s not easily crushed or creased and stuff washes off it easily and it doesn’t stain. (However, I’m not suggesting we should wear more nylon. I prefer PVC). This brings me nicely to a key to resilience- good humour, the ability to laugh at ourselves and in the face of adversity. When we take offence it erodes our resilience and the world becomes a hostile place. (Couldn’t find a picture of someone taking offence, so I put this one of two guys taking a fence above).

Life can be tough and unfair. I’m a realist, so the starting point is to understand and accept reality.

It is what it is. Let’s understand the objective truth and work out how we’re going to get through it.

In times of crisis one human reaction is denial, there’s a temptation to put our head in the sand and pretend it’s not happening. Helpful questions for this point: What is it I don’t want to hear about this situation? What’s the worst-case scenario? My experience is ninety-nine times out of a hundred it’s not as bad as it could be, so count your blessings.

Psychological research shows we have the ability to choose the way we think. A key part of resilience is avoiding unhelpful thinking.  Don’t blame, keep the thoughts constructive and positive. Our thinking should be grascious and generous to ourselves and others. In short, look beyond the pain and reach for realistic optimism.

Examples of stinking thinking are thoughts that are down on self, others, our future and the world in general. They’re rigid ‘it must be ‘my way’; thoughts, full of assumption; not reality tested and goal blocking- all the reasons not too.

Healthy mental habits as are accepting of ourselves, others, the world and our future. A generosity of spirit. Flexible or agile thinking which is reality tested and not assumptive. Thinking which is ‘can do’ and ‘let’s find a way to make it work’

Never underestimate the power of belief. To be resilient we must choose to believe in ourselves. Sometimes people need help to grow self-belief. Kind words of encouragement are more important than we often realise.

Asking for help is a sign of strength not weakness; we should be prepared to ask for other views and be prepared to be helped and help others. It’s a two-way street.

When I was in a remote part of Mozambique East Africa I met a missionary working in the vast Northern provinces. I was clearing UXO’s with Frank my Operations Officer ahead of UNHCR sending refugees back to their villages. One evening there was thunderstorm with the heaviest rain imaginable. The water began to rise.

We talked about floods. He smiled and told me a story (I suspect apocryphal) of a Godly man who saw the water rise around his home. He prayed to God for help and as the flood rose higher he climbed onto the roof of his house where he saw trees and cars float by. He prayed to God to send angels to save him because he was a righteous believer.

The rain fell and the floods rose, then a boy paddled past him in a canoe. He stopped and said ‘Can I offer you a ride in my boat Sir?

The righteous man replied ‘No, I’ve prayed to God to save me and I believe he’ll send angels down shortly’

The boy nods and paddles away.

Righteous man continues to pray in the rain and soon a fire service boat with flashing blue lights slows its engine and they urge him to jump aboard. ‘No thanks, I’ve prayed to God to save me and I believe he’ll send angels down shortly’

They know him to be righteous and reluctantly sail on.

The wind and rain rise. His prayers and pleas grow more intense. Finally, through the driving rain a helicopter hovers lower. The winchman descends clutching a sling and tries to save him. Pushing it away he says ‘No thank you! I’ve prayed to God to save me and I believe he’ll send angels shortly’

The winchman’s ear peace crackles ‘We have to respect his decision and there’s another twenty waiting. Let’s go.’

Swirling flood waters rise, the torrential rain continues, the house creaks and groans and finally collapses sinking into the black swirling void. The man quickly drowns.

He dies, goes to heaven, meets his maker and says ‘God I prayed to you to send angels. Why didn’t you answer me I’m a righteous person’

God laughs and says ‘What do you mean? I sent a canoe, a rescue boat and helicopter.

So maybe there are angels among us and perhaps we should strive to be someone else’s angel.

Be nylon!; I wish you a crush and wrinkle proof future.

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