Resilience at times of pandemic alterations
If the infamous term ‘coronavirus pandemic’ became a trendy, yet a vital reference in recent social, political and scholarly talks, resilience, too, is a key concept which intersects in several discussions in today’s world. For example, in her speech at the World Economic Forum’s Davos Dialogue, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel referred to the pandemic as a disaster which tested the resilience of societies and health care systems. In a mental-health study by members of the Leibniz-Institute for Resilience Research Mainz, they found out that low-resilience adults reported the largest increases in mental distress during the pandemic. Other discussions focused on the importance to keep social contacts during times of quarantine to remain resilient, while other German forums asked whether spirituality and faith improves resilience and coping of individuals amid crisis and difficulties.
The current debate over building resilience has reached a point where individuals are not only the mere focus. The concept extends to include societies, institutions and even countries trying to function while facing sudden breakdown of health services and increasing numbers of people in need for assistance. As rigorous efforts continue to search for solutions to better equip ourselves amid (post)pandemic, the consequences of protective measures against virus spread are increasingly strenuous and debilitating on individuals, societies, and states as whole. Social isolation, restriction of movements and redefining social rules in public spaces are resulting in ruptured routines and livelihoods, physical as well as mental fatigue. As one recognizes the critical voices of many scientists to overcome this global predicament, one might ask the question: What do ruptured social structures and altered perceptions say about our resilience at times of adversity?
Meaning of resilience
The original meaning of resilience is derived from the Latin resalire, that is the ability to adjust easily to change. Several meanings developed from there to emphasize individuals’ capacities to recover from a disturbance, ability to bounce back, and adaptation under extenuating circumstances. Organizations, such as the UNHCR extended the definition from applying it to “individuals’ ability to recover from shocks” to include “societies and host countries” to coping to conditions in hard times. The definition also reflects a process which individuals experience that optimize their development and facilitate their growth. Overall, it revolves around individual’s capacity to cope and maintain control under hardship while utilizing meaningful resources to remain functional.
Change and rupture to our livelihoods and social lives
In the fight against Covid-19 outbreak, governments, institutions and organisations around the world took sudden measures for prevention and protection. It included quarantine, social isolation and curfews. These measures not only imposed changes on our livelihoods, but also on our daily routine and social perceptions. On the one hand, as some countries declared a state of emergency such as Jordan and Italy – where a curfew is often in place, hundreds of people lost their livelihoods nets and their source of income over night. On the other hand, other countries are racing towards maintaining the epidemic on local level measures by quarantines and shifting to E-offices. Within all of that, individuals also experience limitations to movement, restrictions to social activities and redefining social rules in public spaces. The involuntarily introduced protective Coronavirus measures and actions (in)directly obtain power over us, consequently, contributing to gradual alterations of our daily routine and social lives.
When people perceived these fundamental rights – freedom of movement, social interactions, social gatherings, and ultimately freedom itself – as guaranteed, at the time of writing, these rights are not necessarily given, but dwindling.
Resilience in the making
Even though these changes sound unpleasant, whether we are capable to adjust can be determined by our willingness and commitments to navigate our surroundings and transform our skills to respond to constant change. We, as social actors form our knowledge and experiences in the world, simultaneously our knowledge forms us. Thus, the construction of resilience occurs as long as: first, we are in constant interaction with our surroundings. Resilience cannot be separated from our environment and rendered social measures. Second, a process of resilience occurs when rupture happens. When we are exposed to adverse situation, we become triggered to react in a compelling way that minimize risks and confer benefits. Therefore, we end up developing and transforming our capacities and skills to remain functional and meet the challenges of the new context. From this perspective, resilient individuals exhibit changes in their functionality and experience evolvement and transformation in their abilities.
Within this reflection, we can suggest that resilience at our times of coronavirus pandemic is comprised of four dimensions: coping capacities of individuals; adaptive capacities of institutions and organizations; robustness of societies to maintain well-being; transformative capacities of institutions and organizations to craft solutions beyond established methods.
Some scholars are already contemplating on the notion that this unprecedented epidemic will pay dividends in the future; for instance that institutions and organizations are realizing the gaps and weaknesses in their structure and could act to rehabilitate these gaps, especially in the educational, technological and innovation sectors by boosting digitalization and supporting students and teachers with remote learning. In addition, the German government will support the health and medical sector with more funds and human resources. In other fields, Institutes such as Bertelsmann Stiftung has examined how the pandemic influences social cohesion of communities in Germany and what can be done to improve it. At the same time one might ask: What if rupture to our lives continues, where would it lead us?
When institutions imposed protective measures – similar on an array of levels across the globe –, the burden fell inequal on everyone. A few people went unaffected by restrictions, but many others had already strived mentally, economically, and emotionally. The rupture of livelihoods, social structures and perceptions has the nature of extending to unspecified timing which gives it a fluid undefined characteristic. Thus, brings uncertainty and ambiguity with it. We don’t know how long our restriction of movement will be prolonged, to what extent our given rights are altered, until when public gatherings will be prohibited and to what extent social distancing would affect our social well-being.
While we are all experiencing this unprecedented situation collectively, each one of us is interacting to their surrounding uniquely. Therefore, we continue to construct resilience in various levels and forms. Although each response differs, we all share one thing in common. That is our qualities of hope, optimism, and perseverance to overcome this timely predicament. However, when these shared qualities are challenged by the absence of our fundamental rights in this moment of acceleration, can we ensure even if our freedom might possibly be curtailed, will it hinder our capabilities to be resilient when mostly needed?
Mais Masadeh is a DAAD Doctoral Research Fellow and a former Fulbright Scholar. She is a research associate at the Institut für Friedenssicherungsrecht und Humanitäres Völkerrecht (IFHV) in Germany. Her area of expertise includes human trafficking and migrant smuggling, protracted displacement, and resilience of ethno-religious minority groups in post conflict. The distinctiveness of Mais’ strategies is that she incorporates art and culture into education on forced migration topics. Her work has appeared in numerous general and academic publications such as the Journal of Refugee Studies, Berliner Wissenschaftsverlag, Der Völkerrechtsblog, and the Reiss Center of New York University School of Law. Before joining the IFHV, Mais has held positions at Wellesley College, and the UN-International Organization for Migration (IOM) among others. In the past decade, Mais has worked with humanitarian organizations and research institutes in North America, Jordan, Iraq, Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and Germany focusing on forced migration, irregular migration and integration in post-conflict settings.