By Elena Gustafson
There was a tension that arose the last morning of the Roundtable. One of the most difficult periods during the event perhaps. But one that, in processing over the past month, I keep being drawn back to. It was a powerful and ultimately positive experience, and I think I’ve finally figured out why.
As I perceived it, the conflict that arose seemed to manifest from two main needs of the group: one side, a need to move towards action planning and small groups, the other needing more space for listening and continuing a larger discussion in the Fishbowl. Regardless if that was the case, and regardless of how effective the Fishbowl experiment was in reaching its potential for discussion, I think the fact that this division arose and was addressed in part is essential—and something I’ve never experienced before.
Let me try to describe this division, which is difficult because the sides are generalized and it exists on so many levels. So bear with me. It’s a partition between immediacy and long-views, between practice and study, between streets and academia, between fight and self-care (or “fight or fort,” as Diana described it during the Roundtable storytelling evening). The first side I’m deeming “resistance:” it holds urgency, innovating, movement, outer-focus, action plans. The second side, I’m calling “persistence:” it holds long-views, listening, introspection, sharing, and stillness. Persistence identifies what we love enough to protect; resistance fights to protect that which we love. Persistence is the perpetuation of what we love, through education and sharing values and grieving and relationships and self-care to keep ourselves going. Resistance is then the act of standing in front of bulldozers, of moving towards and standing against. Resistance can be both an act of creating change or pushing back against unwanted change. Persistence is both against change (what values do we want to save?) and through change (allow ourselves to grieve and process in a space of safety in the face of loss). Resistance and persistence are perhaps not the most accurate words to describe these sides—but hey, I needed a distinction, this worked for me, and they rhymed!
I’ve spent time on both sides, on many different levels. In college, I tried to live in both spaces through where I was putting my time—trying to resist through immediate environmental activism (sign this petition! Shut down this coal plant!) and persist through founding an environmental education group. Education was where I was drawn, but the pressure of urgency, from myself and others, made it hard for me to allow myself into that other space fully. So I tried to do both, to the detriment of all my work. Finally, I had to convince myself that I was doing good work in that “persistent” side: though I hadn’t saved the world that weekend, it was equally as important to create a generation that cared the world was saved for them.
In that instance, the division manifested on the level of how I engaged with my community. On a personal level, I’ve often found myself, regardless of the work I was doing, on the “go, go, go” side of life; I was forced to step back from the resistance of always acting to the persistence side of self-care because of my chronic disease diagnosis. I hated it at first, being forced to hold, forced to listen, forced towards a longer look because I physically wasn’t able to be involved in urgency. Though I’m drawn towards resistance, I now know I have to prioritize space for self-persistence in order to avoid burn-out.
I’ve since swung from one side to the other, on personal and community levels. And it’s interesting—whichever side I’m on, I think I’m subconsciously and simultaneously judging the other side and feeling judged by the other side. I should be doing the other side as well, yet the other side isn’t valuing fully the merits of where I’m currently sitting.
This conflict is typically not talked about. It lies under the surface, an internal struggle or subconscious group decision. In the Roundtable, we did address it somewhat before Friday—the “struggle between urgency and giving time to build relationships” was acknowledged, though not delved into. Because these two sides, examples of this resistance/persistence coin, appear in apparent “conflict” and rarely engage with each other, work on either side, I believe, falls short. Action without full listening and conversation, and you’ve missed aspects of intention essential to the success of your work. Time spent all in stillness and conversation, and a window is missed for making movement.
In my own life, since my diagnosis I’ve been trying to find a balance between passionate urgency and space for stillness, and now have a word for those two desires pulling me in seemingly different directions. It’s difficult to find space for both. Perhaps we can’t ever fully, and finding balance means continuing to swing from side to side. Hopefully, we can follow the motion of a pendulum, and those swings can become smaller and smaller, more stabilizing, less of a jump.
It is important that these tensions were aired on Friday morning, and essential that we continue to hold this divide, talk about it, and intentionally incorporate it into notions of resilience. For me, I’ve actually come to a new definition of resilience: as the tying together of resistance and persistence, of urgency and quiet, of action and listening. It is intentionally creating space for both of these to exist in tandem, recognizing that one side isn’t more or less important than the other. They have to intertwine for a full life, to move across boundaries, to create a new mindset and space for creative capacities of all kinds, for full resilience. Resilience for me has to be both a more complete lens through which to look at community problems and solutions, and a concrete way of life to strive for. For me, this new definition holds both.
“Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes.
If it were always a fist or
Always stretched open, you would be
Paralyzed. Your deepest presence
Is in every small contracting and
Expanding, the two as beautifully
Balanced and coordinated as
Resilience is bird wings. Resilience is holding contracting and expanding in harmony, in closed fists and resistance, in open hands and persistence. Both are essential. Both have to act in tandem—one pushing in front of the other leads to unbalance, leads to flapping in circles. Resilience can be that holding of these seeming contradictions, of creating space for resistance and persistence to exist in a harmony of perfectly organized chaos. I think that is beautiful. And I think that is something to strive for.