‘People always think their society will continue, safely and forever. It never does!’. Now this quote, which belongs to award-winning author Robert Harris, does not seem immediately appropriate as a capstone for a StreetwiZe article on resilience. Those who are familiar with us know that something like 'positive focus' is high on the list. Still, we can understand Harris quite a bit after reading his underpinned historical thrillers. In his book 'The Officer', we read the story of Jewish-French officer Alfred Dreyfus who is unjustly demoted for spying for the German arch-enemy in January 1895 in front of an angry crowd. It would take almost 10 years before he was reinstated. Alan Turing, the character from 'Enigma', fared even worse. As the cracker of the Enigma messages, he was indebted to one of the turning points in the war, according to many historians. However, he committed suicide after being convicted of sexual relations with a man, which was considered illegal at the time. His rehabilitation had to wait until 11 September 2009 when the then prime minister Gordon Brown struck mea culpa in an open letter. Even in his job as political editor, Harris regularly had to report on the not-so-nice sides of political existence. We can all imagine that this doesn't exactly make you happier, judging by our laborious formation of a government.
However, what he is particularly keen to challenge with his words is what sociologists describe as 'the Belief in a Just World (BJW)'. The BJW theory was formulated by Lerner and states, in a nutshell, that people prefer to perceive their personal environment as a stable and orderly place. It is a place where 'you reap what you sow' and justice prevails. Needless to say, that worldview sometimes comes under pressure, for instance due to a political scandal. And, as always, people do not always do the most thoughtful thing when their views come under pressure.
A first action a lot of people take is to protect their thinking, to try to leave it untouched. Therefore, in the case of a crime, for example, a deviation from the 'just world' idea, people sometimes turn to Victim Blaming. Victim blaming is blaming the victim for what has happened to an innocent victim. Needless to say, this is not exactly the most resilient way of dealing with a difficult situation right now.
A second reaction is to say goodbye to the idea that the world is a good place. But citizens who say goodbye to their belief that democracy leads to better decisions often lapse into cynicism. Or worse, they derive a legitimacy from a disenchanted event to adopt the very behaviour they condemn. 'Undeclared work', is a typical (Belgian) example of this. Because a politician is brought under fire for corruption, many Belgians see no harm in evading taxes themselves. It somewhat resembles what criminologists describe as the 'Broken Window Theory'. Since a window is broken in the building anyway, we consider it less of a problem if we break another window ourselves. Of course, that too is a not very recommendable strategy for dealing with disillusionment or frustration.
The above makes it clear that it is essential that we as a society, organisation or as individuals deal constructively with life's inevitable frustrations. It is true that there will be times when our belief in 'a just world' will come under pressure, so let us face those moments with resilience and agility.
I write this piece not only because resilient and agile coping with disillusionment and frustration are essential skills today. Perhaps I am writing this piece mainly because I owe it to Saskia, our Sas.
For people who don't know Saskia, a brief explanation. As a passionate volunteer coordinator, she was the cornerstone of the Mobile School volunteer drive. She brought the mission of the Mobile School to life in supporting the many assignments carried out by our fantastic volunteers. She was also responsible for the campaigns we organise. She did this by highlighting the Mobile School in original ways. But above all, Saskia was also the guardian of our hybrid model. She kept her finger on the pulse at both StreetwiZe and the Mobile School, paid equal attention to everyone and supported us in word and deed.
So Saskia's unexpected farewell on 19 July was an ordeal for all who knew her. That such a passionate and selfless woman was taken away meant for many not only the goodbye of a beautiful person, of an indispensable colleague, but also of the idea that life is fair. That she of all people with her infectious life motto "it will be all right" is now gone still tests the resilience of everyone who knew her. But we must go on as family, as friends or as colleagues.
How we can best do that, science on resilience can help us. And not only science, fortunately, we can also rely on the Sas effect. The Sas effect is the impact Saskia still has today, because of who she was and what she did! Staying optimistic, paying attention to each other, connecting people to achieve wonderful steps forward, that is the Sas effect in a nutshell.
And if you want to see the Sas effect at work, be sure to come to the #DuwMee action on 21 December. The first year we all step without Sas... but with the Sas effect!
* #Duwmee = push the Mobile School all together