Against all odds

I heard an episode of Marketplace the other day, and it was about grief, something that has been the theme of 2020 for myself and so many other people, and the definition for a phrase I had never heard struck me. The term was “resilience porn”. At first, my mind struggled to comprehend these two words together. When I thought of the word “resilience,” I thought of the Within Leadership Retreat I attended in 2019. At the retreat, we talked about resilience in ourselves as design managers and how we could support our teams and help them build resilience. I was in the car when I heard this, returning home from driving my one-year-old dog around, so she’d tire out a bit more, even though we had just walked. My dog seems resilient. I try to be resilient. What possibly could “resilience porn” mean? Was it some version of self-help that put the word up on a pedestal or a new thing people might be into—I wasn’t sure.

Well, the guest on the show, psychotherapist, Megan Devine explained:

I have a really hard time with the pairing of the words crisis and opportunity. And I’m not saying that there isn’t opportunity; there is opportunity. But when we stitch required opportunity into a crisis, and this is sort of what we’re talking about, right? Like, the second something is difficult, we’re supposed to look for the gift inside of it. And all that really does is erase the very human pain that’s at the core. This is related really to resilience porn, right? Where we really hold up these stories of people who triumph against all odds, instead of looking at the systems that create the injustices or the situations for which they need to be resilient.

This last sentence hit me like a ton of bricks. Instantly, it reminded me of so many seemingly harmless examples of Instagram posts or news stories or tweets about how people have made it through the odds. The son who drove their older 94-year-old mother over 300+ miles to vote. Against all odds! The 102-year-old woman who beat the 1918 Flu and Covid. Against all odds! Another 108-year-old woman did the same and also beat cancer at 95. Against all odds!

And while there are many successes and happy endings or continuations to these stories, Devine brings up the excellent point that we’re not looking at the systems. The odds here are a broken electoral system and a broken health care system, which, itself, is odd. Too drive 300+ miles to vote; for these women to have to go through two to three illnesses 100 years apart and see very similar worlds makes me wonder, like Devine, how much has even changed and think about how much has to change.

Even as I take a quick distraction break in writing, the top tweet in my (organized by latest tweet, again) timeline was a link to a TikTok where an adult son climbed a ladder to see his parent in isolation through a window. They were failed by people in public office who swore to protect them or work for them and didn’t.

What happens when we become resistant to this? What happens when we become immune to the stories of resilience? Resilience in these stories isn’t the end game, right? I hope it’s motivation to question the systems, to change the systems. To use them as examples of what needs to change. Hope is the energy to fight these systems. To know that these systems should be better. We can celebrate humans’ resiliency, but we have to dismantle why this is happening. Against all odds.