1. As publisher of Changemakers Books, you took charge of an effort to publish a series of ten books by experts on resilience in many dimensions. Tell us a little more about that.
While some people are stitching masks for health workers, donating to food pantries, or shopping for elderly neighbours, we at John Hunt Publishing asked what we could possibly do to help. We came up with a unique idea: what if we could bring out a series of books to help people through the pandemic? Not simple stuff like how to do social distancing, but the tough stuff: practical, and emotional skills – like handling anxiety, or loss. But also the spiritual skills we need to build courage, inner strength, empathy and collaboration in a crisis.
I jumped at the opportunity. Because my imprint, Changemakers Books, focuses on books about personal transformation, I already had a great network of authors and experts. I invited twelve of them to draw from their expertise and each write a 20,000 word book in twenty days on one aspect of resilience. To my astonishment, ten of them said yes to this audacious request. I worked with them all through the first half of April, helping keep their focus on practical exercises. Then our production team worked at warp speed to get the finished manuscripts through production. Normally this takes three months. They did it in less than three weeks. By early May, ebooks were available. By mid -May – right now, in fact – the print books are arriving at on online retailers. So, ten books, seven weeks from commission to books available. I don’t think anything like this has ever happened before in publishing.
Here are the topics of the completed books: Adapting and Planning • Aging with Courage • Connecting with Nature • Developing Inner Strength • Handling Anxiety • The Inner Spiritual Journey • Navigating Loss • The Life-Saving Skill of Story • Virtual Communication • Virtual Teams. Here’s the website where they can all be found: www.resilience-books.com, and they can be ordered directly here: https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/changemakers-books/our-books/jhp-books/
2. How did you get interested in resilience?
Living in under lockdown in the US this March, I realised that this pandemic was going to last years, not months. It was going to disrupt our lives, devastate our health systems, and likely decimate our economies. I felt personally inadequate, unable to come to grips with the chaos heading towards us. But,I realised we have no choice. We are going to have to deal with these disruptions. So, what do we need, I asked myself? It was right then that John Hunt posed this fateful question about what our authors could do to help. Taking on this assignment gave me a renewed sense of purpose – something each of my authors have also told me they felt too, while writing their books. You see by nature every species is resilient. Every life form has survived countless threats of extinction. But, uniquely, we humans can learn survival skills from each other. So, spreading the skills in these books has the potential to rapidly increase our ability not just to be resilient individuals, but resilient communities and societies.
3. How would you define resilience? Many psychologists define resilience as an absence of depression or absence of struggle during difficult circumstances, do you agree or disagree? Why?
Technically, resilience means the ability to “bounce back.” Ecologists define it as the ability of living systems to recover from severe damage. So, to me resilience is not the absence of something (depression), but the presence of something: a sense of vision and purpose. Look, we can’t avoid this pandemic. But we can choose whether or not we will be able to get up each day and be there for our children, find the strength to do our jobs – especially in healthcare, or even working in grocery stores. We can determine whether we will be empathetic to our neighbours, compassionate towards those in need. Or will we sink into our most fearful, hostile selves? We do have a say in determining who we will be in the pandemic, and we can start now, building the skills to become our best future selves.
4. How can people become more resilient, especially right now given everything people are going through?
Each of the ten books charts a different skills-set. For some, connecting with nature will be key. For some finding one’s spiritual depths. For those struggling with anxiety, most important may be learning to stay in tune with your physical being so that you can stabilise your mood and keep calm. Because each of these books are written by masters in their fields – most with 30 years or more expertise – they are like a miniature master-class for building resilience. Look, in our regular life, lots of people are too busy to meditate or begin a new daily practice. But now each of us know we need something. We know we are not up to the task. People are looking for this kind of practical wisdom. What they won’t expect is to find so much of it here, at their fingertips, in these books. Heck, I am learning from the series, practicing the techniques, dedicating myself to becoming a more resilient person.
5. What advice would you have for people who do not feel resilient or just are not resilient.
I would say, of course you don’t feel resilient! Every one of us is up against a massive wall of uncertainly. As viruses evolve along unpredictable pathways, we can’t possibly know what the next year will look like. So we all feel desperately unprepared. I can’t plan my career path for the year to come, but I can plan on becoming a more adaptable person. I can learn how to be aware of the thinking mistakes I might make that could lead me to make disastrous decisions. These are some of the skills outlined in Resilience: Adapt and Plan for the New Abnormal – which to me is the cornerstone book of the series that everyone should read. Do I feel anxious about my future? Of course! I can’t banish those feelings, but my following the advice in Resilience: Handling Anxiety, I can learn to recognise if I’m starting to spin downwards and out of control, and take corrective measures to stabilise myself.
6. What is one experience you have gone through in life where you felt like you were not resilient and what is one experience in life where you felt like you were resilient.
I can give you one experience with both sides of the resilience coin. I also run a communications training business. My partner and I teach courses to environment and development groups to be better communicators. For the past ten years, we have resisted moving any of our courses on line. This cost us some big business opportunities. But, we were ready to accept that. But, we were clear that people learned better in face-to-face workshops, and we did not want to adapt. So, that’s a lack of responsiveness to change. Then, wham, this March in the space of three weeks every one of our clients canceled their courses on us. We had zero business on our books. Our business model was basically destroyed. Who was going to come to a training program for the next year or so? We toyed with simply shutting down the company for good. Instead, we realised that our clients, too, were in crisis. All their conferences were cancelled, all their important meetings were postponed. We know they would have to move online to fulfill their mandates. And they were really bad at virtual communications. So, we stepped up. We took our deep expertise in communications and began figuring out how to apply it to on-line communications. We wrote a book, putting this new knowledge all in one place, and it has become our personal contribution to the series: Resilience: Virtually Speaking – Communicating at a Distance. We are set up now to deliver the teachings of this book in virtual workshops, and our clients are coming back to us – because we are now set up to help them become more resilient. This to me is key: finding ways to contribute to other people, on their journey to becoming more resilient.