Resilient Communities are the Foundations of a Resilient America.

Celebration and the Craft of Community Resilience

Whenever I give a presentation on resilience, I try to include the following cartoon.


Too often as we contemplate the pain and suffering of disaster, we forget that we rebuild our lives by laying one brick on another, that recovery is the culmination of many small steps, and not the result of a giant leap.  We, as humans, cannot and will not make continuous progress and we will get discouraged by seeing how far we still have to go.  But that’s one of the wonderful things about a celebration – it helps us look back and see how far we’ve come.  It provides a validation that all of our effort has brought us out of the abyss and nearer the summit we’re striving to reach.  Thus, celebrating small successes enables us to achieve great things.

But celebrations mean so much more in terms of our resilience.  We’ve had the sad spectacle over the last few days of the abduction of two Amish girls.  Certainly, their recovery from this wicked ordeal cannot be assured.  However, the strong sense of community among the Amish – fostered by potlucks, barn raisings, and other celebrations of life and community – has to tilt the odds in their favor.

I went to college in Pennsylvania Dutch country.  Barn raisings are amazing.  We all can recognize the value of common striving to reach a goal.  But barn raisings are more than that – they are opportunities to set and reinforce community norms; to acknowledge each person’s role – that each person has a role, even children – in the community; to increase the community’s currency of social capital – shared memories.

In April, I was in Singapore.  The government provides funds to housing developments to hold block parties celebrating their many cultures and community.  The government has found that this is an effective way to break down ethnic, racial and religious barriers and to forge a stronger society based on shared experiences.  I have to wonder whether the recent events in Ferguson, MO, would have unfolded differently if the various parts of the community had plowed more common ground.

Creating more resilient communities is neither a science nor an art – it is a craft, like making fine furniture.  It is a learned activity, but one we can only learn by doing.  And just as a craftsman makes sure he has the tools needed for his craft, so we who would foster resilience must be sure to use the tools of our craft.  Celebrations are tremendous tools for strengthening communities, too often overlooked.  We must never underestimate the power of a party.