November 19, 2019

Hope, Resilience and Thor

Can resilience be taught? As a parent of a teen with significant developmental disabilities, I don’t feel like I have much of a choice but to be resilient, but it turns out the answer is yes, according to Dr. Andrew Shatte, the keynote speaker at The Help Group’s Advance LA Resilience Conference held last Friday at the AJU.

Shatte, who is a Professor at the College of Medicine at University of Arizona, and Co-author of book, The Resilience Factor, told the parents and professionals attending the annual conference that people who are more creative and flexible problem solvers have a larger capacity for hope than those who think there is only one solution to a given problem. And the more social connections you have, and the sense that you are contributing to something larger than yourself, the more resilient you will be when faced with the inevitable setbacks, disappointments and sadness that everyone experiences in life.

Then he also gave us a big shout out –according to the survey results from an electronic survey many of us emailed to him  prior to the conference, our collective scores for resilience were higher than Fortune 500 leaders, especially when it came to empathy. We nodded our heads in agreement.

The Advance LA Conference features nationally prominent experts who are focusing their research and practice on how to best support young people with autism, learning differences and ADHD in their transition to college, the workplace and beyond.

A breakout session on “Using the Science of Hope, Self-Compassion, Mindfulness and Gratitude to Build Resilience” focused on whether us humans are consumed with our self-survival, or hard-wired for kindness and altruism? Dr Vicki Zakrzwekski of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley made the case that people who are happiest in life are those who feel they are living a meaningful life.

And at lunch, Rabbi Naomi Levy was honored and spoke about her own journey towards hope after their child was diagnosed with a potentially degenerative condition. “I found myself living in waiting rooms all the time,” she said, and went on to say that the lesson she learned was to “embrace the wait “by finding support and comfort from mentors including the other parents sharing that waiting room. 

Another highlight of the day was Dr. Shatte’s re-telling of the mythical story of Thor when he traveled north to the Kingdom of the Ice Giants. The king of the Giants gave him three challenges—the first was a drinking contest, to empty the liquid from a huge drinking urn. Although Thor drank a lot, there was still plenty left behind. Next, he was challenged to pick up an enormous cat, but all he succeeded was in lifting one paw (which sounded a lot like our own hefty orange tabby). Last, he had to wrestle someone. The King of the Ice Giants sent an old crone named Elli to wrestle with Thor but Thor could not even move the crone. The old woman managed to pull him off balance. Thor left and headed south, feeling disappointed in his inability to pass the tests. But as it turns out, the challenges were all illusions. The drinking horn held the seven seas, and the level of the seas had actually dropped considerably from Thor's deep draughts. The cat was actually the creature that held up the world, and Thor had managed to pull up a corner, and that old crone was death itself.  “Thor never understood what he had achieved,” Dr. Shatte said, “You are accomplishing much more than you will ever know.”