Where does Resilience Come From?

I mentioned in my last post that I was impressed and fascinated by the resilience of the Guatemalans — after so many years of the internal armed conflict, genocide, and now continuing aggression and displacement directed against them by multinational companies, one of the questions in my mind was how do they do it?


How do they keep going when every advance seems met by a step 0r two back?: They achieve a guilty verdict in the Rios Montt genocide trial, then within two weeks, it’s reversed and the whole trial is set back by 30 days prior to the verdict; they successfully have pepetrators of the violence brought to trial, but others hold key positions in the current government or grant themselves impunity; a fabulous attorney general, Claudia Paz y Paz is appointed and brings the genocide trial to a Guatemalan court and then her term is cut short; they survive rape and murder by the military only to have the multinationals use some of the very same people as part of their security forces — again raping and murdering to quell resistance.


How do they keep going?


I asked this question of several groups and people we met with as part of the Inter Pares Solidarity Tour. As I listened, I thought I heard several different themes.


The Past: Some of the answers I got were from survivors who talked about feeling a responsibility to their murdered families. “Why did this happen? Why was I the only one left?” They didn’t feel they could move on until they had demanded and received justice for their dead family members. While we in North America might talk about this as “survivor guilt” (“Why did I survive? I should have died too.”), I didn’t hear/feel it that way. I had more of a sense of the intimacy of the connections between family members and communities: If they were injured, I am injured too. Finding justice for them means finding justice and closure for us as a family or a community. The “loose threads” of the group fabric would otherwise keep getting caught and pulling at them, creating ongoing pain and a pull to the past.


The Future: Other answers I heard, particularly from young people, focused on concern for the future of Guatemala and of their indigenous groups and land. They want to prevent the youngest of their people from growing up in the same conflict-ridden and fearful atmosphere. They want something different and satisfying and safe for the next generation.


The Present: This was where the pain of the past and the hopes for the future came together by a recognition of those patterns recurring in the present. While the resilience of the Past seemed to come from those who had lived it and were now aging, and the resilience of the Future is from the younger generation that has grown up in the shadow of the past, but could dream of something better for their own children, the Present is the meeting place for many. These people talk about preventing a repetition of the damage of the internal armed conflict in the face of the current attempts by corporations to disempower indigenous peoples. They are driven to stop the atrocities occurring again - over mines, corporate plantations, forced displacement from the lands wanted by the corporations, pollution of waterways by chemical runoff, etc. They describe seeing the same symptoms, the same strategies, emerging and are driven to prevent it or at least not to lie down and take it.


What seems to me to bring all these perspectives together is their focus on the good of the community — healing the wounds of their family and community fabric torn apart by loss of land, by torture, rape, and murder; creating a better world for the people to come after them; fighting for a better environment and healthier communities for everyone in the Now.


While writing this post, I happened to read an article by Timothy Taylor in the Canadian magazine The Walrus about paying taxes. Taxes as a Good Thing, to be more precise.

“Taxes were the hinge that connected us to a common purpose, [Himelfarb] says, cutting to the heart of what they represent versus what they are, strictly speaking, collected to do. We pay taxes to build roads, to hire teachers and firefighters, to fund EI and income assistance. But we also pay to play, and the game in question is citizenship, membership, community.”

Taylor’s argument is that the emphasis of all our levels of government on tax-cutting is also undermining (or reflecting an existing undermining) of our commitment to the Common Good.


Yet this is what I hear in the answers to my question about how the indigenous people of Guatemala keep going. They spontaneously describe a commitment to others, to those they are linked with through blood or community or even across time, to something larger and more important than just themselves “as if” they were individual separate beings.


And this is a lesson I think they have to teach us — We Are Not Alone, not in the way our brains are structured or function, not in the things that influence us or that we influence, certainly not in what emerges as we all live together on this planet.


“Although this story is linear,

time in my culture is not.

So while it may have happened

not quite two decades ago,

It is part of my tomorrow,

remains in my yesterday

and informs the history of

my grandchildren

and the future of my great-grandparents.”

Stephen Law, The Tailings of Warren Peace, 2013

What kind of a world would emerge from our collective actions if we all acted with the knowledge that We are Not Alone — that we mirror the people around us and provide a mirror for them as well? And that our Mirrors reflect across time as well?