Beresheet, resilience and the Jewish people

A simple and elegant way to define resilience in layman’s terms is, “the ability to at all times and under all circumstances retain one’s basic humanity.”

May 7, 2019 14:30
Beresheet, resilience and the Jewish people

A SPACEX Falcon 9 rocket carrying Israel’s first spacecraft designed to land on the moon lifts off on the first privately-funded lunar mission at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida.. (photo credit: JOE SKIPPER/REUTERS)

The Beresheet lunar mission is a symbol of the fundamental quality that in many ways defines the character of the Jewish people and of Israel as a nation. The scientific accomplishment could have been replicated by others. What was so striking, however, were the reactions of the people in the control room, from the scientists and the sponsor, when the mission crashed at the last minute. It was remarkable to witness the calm, conspicuous absence of any discernible disappointment, let alone self-pity, recrimination or despair.

There seemed rather to be a buoyant atmosphere of pride and celebration. The tone was set by people who highlighted the accomplishment of having gotten so far, albeit not ultimately reaching their goal. Most significantly, there was an immediate and almost reflexive commitment made to try again.

The characteristic so strikingly evident in the responses of both the scientists and SpaceIL chairman Morris Kahn, was the quality of resilience. Resilience is a quality that has been so fundamental to our not only surviving, but also to thriving as a people, that it is worthwhile to pause, analyze and appreciate this quality.

Many people confuse resilience with being hard and Herculean, being able to doggedly push through obstacles with tenacity and determination – the hardened individual who ignores and overrides physical pain from real injuries and presses on regardless, as if invincible. Such hard-boiled, unyielding people rely on stamina and willful ambition to override emotional needs, stress and fatigue, and often don’t notice or simply push aside hunger and depletion.

They also tend to resist or ignore feedback from the people who try to alert them to the fact that they are not managing their lives effectively. In their quest to triumph and achieve their immediate goals, they lose connection with others, and to their own inner physical, emotional and spiritual reality.

The people who pride themselves on such strength overuse their robustness until it starts to work against them. In time, they are forced to confront that their biological being is subject to wear and tear and possesses only finite resources. Thus, they start to break down. By the time they realize that they have pushed themselves beyond their own their physical or emotional limits, they are often too incapacitated or dysfunctional to realize it is too late.  

Resilience is not a function of strength, power, grit, obstinacy or the use of force to overcome obstacles. When you ask people to describe a person who is strong, they will use adjectives like ruthless, abrasive, cynical, thick-skinned, critical, detached, skeptical and focused. Many of these attributes are necessary, and give people an edge in a hostile, competitive, adversarial and unforgiving world. 

However, they are the exact opposites of resilience, and in reality, mitigate against being resilient. Often, very powerful and high-powered people are quite low on resilience.

A simple and elegant way to define resilience in layman’s terms is, “The ability to at all times and under all circumstances retain one’s basic humanity.”

REMAINING FULLY human requires retaining a sense of humility. Humility shows your capacity for empathy and compassion toward yourself, as well as for the people around you. To this end, you need to maintain an expansive state, an open mind, an open heart and flexibility in your approach. This can be attained by, for example, by reminding yourself that you and the people around you are fallible human beings.

Being resilient is about honoring your own humanity, to say, “I am also a person.” Sometimes it isn’t possible to have all your needs met, but just by acknowledging those needs, staying connected to yourself and making that compromise, consciously, you better yourself. To start being kind and compassionate to yourself, to be able to admit defeat or engage in compromise, you need to be able to actually stay connected to and attend to your own needs and feelings.

Resilience is built through a set of core competencies that enable mental strength and optimal performance. It is an essential attribute of strong leadership. One of the most critical building blocks of resilience is self-awareness, which in turn is fundamental to maintaining the capacity for self-regulation. Mastery over one’s self helps one focus, maintain discipline, and direct and leverage one’s will. Resilient people are able to effectively manage their own thoughts, emotions, motivations and behaviors.

Resilience also gives rise to flexibility, so that one may roll with the punches, and therefore become less prone to giving up, becoming defensive, rigid, self-justifying, self-protective or collapsing in the face of setbacks. 

In order to accomplish this ideal one has to resist the pressure to become unduly critical of others, judgmental, mechanical, cold, hard, rigid and always on high alert. 

Resilience has a protective function. It shows in your ability to not only survive, but to survive in a way that you thrive. One is only able to thrive when every part of one’s being – biological, social, psychological and spiritual – are begin attended to and taken care of.

The most important thing to realize is that resilience is not determined by the stress you’re under, but rather by your relationship to stress. The key to developing resilience is changing your relationship to stress. Whether or not you experience stress, how you respond to it is a function of what you tell yourself is challenging. This means not only the story you choose to tell yourself about the circumstance. It is also your own internal narrative about who you are as a person, and your capabilities and power to effectively respond to challenges.

The commentary that you choose determines whether you will be able to deal with reversals and setbacks graciously and bounce back or not. Your capabilities depend largely on how resourceful you credit yourself with being, and how much you believe you will be able to accomplish and overcome. If in the moment of encountering a hurdle you can access knowledge of your resourcefulness, as well as draw on past examples of personal power and effectiveness, your capacity to cope and thrive will be mobilized. You might even feel energized by the struggle.

How you perceive and respond to stress is determined also by your long-standing habits of mind. Much of what is described as personality are simply those habits of mind that operate like editorial rules. These implicit rules determine what you pay attention to and the narrative you develop about the information you have gathered, such as whether you tend to look for what is missing, wrong and what could go wrong leading to your feeling victimized, fearful and powerless. Alternatively, you may focus on what you can be grateful for, and the possibilities open to you in the situation for hope and effective action that make you feel more effective and self-assured.

IN THE Beresheet control room, the conversation centered on the triumph of getting as far as they did. The people who spoke resisted the temptation to allow what went wrong in the final moments to define the entire mission. Those people exemplified the power to remain expansive, engaging a generosity of spirit, camaraderie and optimism.

In so doing, they set the stage for the experience to be one that will inspire the desire to persevere, and most importantly, learn and grow from the experience. This approach makes one feel resourceful and substantial. The opposite approach puts people in a contracted, survivalist state. In that frame of mind, they freeze and became rigid, closed, hard, emotionally shut down and unable to access their inner resources.

The benefit of cultivating resilience is that it helps you master change, uncertainly and stress. This entails developing healthy coping skills to mitigate adversity. It gives you the confidence that you can have a positive influence and produce positive results in your life. It gives you the self-assurance that problems can be solved through your own efforts, and buffers you from throwing in the towel or developing learned helplessness. It increases the motivation to achieve in many different areas of life, as opposed to keeping in your comfort zone.

It makes you more flexible and adaptable in the face of setbacks, changes, challenges and adversity. It helps you create and maintain high-quality relationships and draw upon these meaningful connections when you need help, support or guidance in times of stress or adversity. It mitigates the isolation and loneliness that are the unfortunate results of the misguided belief that accomplishment and survival are all up to you alone.

Establishing whether you are resilient or not lies in part in asking yourself if you tend to get energized and exited, or overwhelmed, rigid and obsessive in the face of challenges.

Resilience also shows in how quickly you bounce back from criticism, rejection or other setbacks with minimal long-term effects or, for example, turn to drugs, alcohol or other addictive behaviors to mitigate the effects of stress.

The measure of how successful you are in this endeavor is seen in how much you enjoy your life, work, relationships and being the person you are.

A few days after the Beresheet lunar module crashed, Mr. Kahn made the following announcement, one that perfectly sums up this discussion:

 “Good evening people of Israel, I have a message for you. After all the massive support that I got from the entire world for this project, I decided to lead a new project: ‘Beresheet 2.’ The mission we started, I hope we can complete. This is my goal. As for my message for all the youngsters: If it doesn’t work at first, stand up and complete it. And this is what I’m doing, and what I wanted to tell you this evening. Thank you.” 

The writer is a South Africa-based clinical psychologist, an organizational development consultant, expert witness and life coach. He has appeared extensively on radio and television and has hosted two radio shows on psychological matters.

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