On Thursday, July 30th, 2020, the world watched as US. Representative and Civil Right Icon John R. Lewis was laid to rest in Atlanta, Georgia, a city in the district he represented for over 30 years. In the speeches and eulogy for Mr. Lewis, we learned so much more about the civil rights icon who worked with and marched alongside Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and countless other change-makers.
The memories shared during his funeral surpassed that common-place knowledge of the beatings he endured by police, sanctioned by the then-governor of Alabama, as he and others attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus bridge, which is currently under petition to be renamed the John R. Lewis Bridge. They expanded on his 45 arrests, 5 of which happened while he was a US Congressman. Among many memories, the one that struck me the most were those shared about a man passionate, angry, fiery, and fed-up at only 20, who was so driven that repeated beatings and threats didn’t hold him back. A man who worked hard for justice for ALL during his incredible career in government. And they really drove home one aspect — John Lewis is the epitome of resilience.
I’m fascinated by and grateful to John Lewis for many reasons, of course. While listening to the eulogies, it was this aspect of never giving up, even when beaten down, that struck me the most. I reflect on times where I’ve given up: on careers, on tasks simple and great, and on myself. And, while I’ve had my share of heartache and setbacks, I never had to work as hard, fight as often, and be threatened with as much as Mr. Lewis. I want — and I want for us all to have — the resilience that he personified.
So what creates resilience, and where do I buy it?
In a 2015 Global Study Called “The World Happiness Report”, writers Dr. Richard Davidson and Brianna Schulyer contributed their findings on the neuroscience (brain-science) of happiness to the study. According to Mindful Magazine, who provided a short synopsis of the study, the study “defined well-being in terms of four qualities or characteristics:
- Sustained positive emotion
- Empathy, altruism and pro-social behavior (also known as generosity)
- Mindful attention”
Building resilience is necessary to not only achieving goals, it’s a vital step to achieving happiness, along with mindfulness, service, and affirmative emotions. John Lewis’ happiness seems inextricably aligned with the four findings above, as evidenced in his interview with New York Magazine in June of 2020:
“We must never ever give up, or give in or throw in the towel. We must continue to press on! And be prepared to do what we can to help educate people, to motivate people, to inspire people to stay engaged, to stay involved and to not lose their sense of hope. We must continue to say we’re one people. We’re one family. We all live in the same house. Not just an American house but the world house. As Dr. King said over and over again, ‘We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters. If not, we will perish as fools.’”
-John Lewis, Interviewed by Zak Cheney-Rice
New York Magazine
Mr. Lewis statement in this article so eloquently summarizes the four pillars described in the 2015 World Happiness Study:
- Sustained positive emotion — “to stay involved and to not lose their sense of hope.”
- Resilience — ‘“We must never ever give up, or give in or throw in the towel. We must continue to press on!”
- Empathy, altruism and pro-social behavior (also known as generosity) — “help educate people, to motivate people, to inspire people to stay engaged,”
- Mindful attention — “And be prepared to do what we can” and “We must continue to say we’re one people. We’re one family. We all live in the same house.”
So, it seems, resilience is not as much an attitude as it is an action, just as is the practice of mindful attention, the action of generosity, and the repetition and practice of positive affirmations. What’s more, these things are all interdependent. In fact, that same Mindful.org article mentions another study on the connections between mindfulness and resilience, published in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences found that “Mindful people … can better cope with difficult thoughts and emotions without becoming overwhelmed or shutting down (emotionally).
The good news is that I can choose to act in resiliency. The positive affirmative side of me doesn’t only need to say I AM resilient, positive, action-based, accomplished, and resilient, it also helps me to realize I have been, which means I can draw on my sense of accomplishment from the past to propel me in the darkest moments of the present and through the fears of the future. Mindfulness, also an action, means I can practice meditation and mindful moments throughout the day to be more responsive and less reactive, which in many cases means to shut down in reaction to internal and external challenges that arise. And finally, when all else fails, the act of being of service, standing up for the disenfranchised, standing up for what’s right, will lead to a greater sense of self-worth, which fuels our resiliency, which is maintained with mindfulness.
Presumption aside, I want to live a John Lewis life. Kind, thoughtful, fiery and smart, effective, and resilient. I believe we can all do that in one-way shape or form, and perhaps, that’s the epitome of what Lewis meant by Good Trouble. As one speaker at his funeral, fellow activist Xernona Clayton shared, good trouble to John Lewis meant to “find a way to right the wrongs of our society”. It’s become more and more clear about all the wrongs of our society, and I continue my commitment, and implore you to continue or re-commit to yours, to right those wrongs, live in resilience, and cause some “good trouble”.
MEDITATION ON RESILIENCE
BE RESILIENT IN CAUSING GOOD TROUBLE
Please consider signing up for text message accountability reminders with Take a Knee | Take a Stand, the site I helped launch in June to help people take actions to fight racism on varying levels. You can visit the site, learn more about it in my blog post from last month, and get easy access to Text Message Reminders by texting TAKEASTAND to 474747 or signing up here.