A Greek medical student from the University of Ottawa explores the role of human resilience as a resolution for the current Greek crisis.
By Maria Psihogios – In times of crisis, one inevitably finds themselves gravitating toward sources of strength and hope that hold promise of a better and sustainable future. Greece possesses a wealth of features that have the potential to offer strength and opportunities for growth, carrying the country into a promising and dynamic future. When one ponders the best features of Greece, images of pristine beaches, thriving tourism, natural beauty and gastronomy often come to mind. However, in order to do justice to Greece and to Hellenism in its entirety, one cannot underestimate a more abstract source of strength than this Mediterranean gem. This piece will explore the resilience of the Greek people; a source of strength that unequivocally has the potential to carry the country into the future.
Historically, the people of Greece have repeatedly risen against insurmountable challenges to emerge triumphant, showcasing great resilience while never losing hope. This strength from within, a driving force of dynamic growth and development over centuries, can be seen at multiple points in history. In ancient times, the Greeks managed to reinvent society; challenging existing paradigms, they established democracy. In 1821, after 400 years of occupation, Greece tasted freedom once again, managing to have kept its language and faith alive against all odds. Recently, despite skepticism and doubt, the Greek people pulled through and delivered the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens; creating a global masterpiece that set a precedence of high standards for games to come. I strongly believe that the passion, resilience, and inner strength of the Greek people will once again serve as a gateway to growth and a positive future; it is simply a matter of enabling and empowering the Greeks so that they themselves can be catalysts of change.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, resilience is defined as the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens; an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change. As a third year Medical Student, the concept of human resilience is reflected in my everyday clinical experiences. I am both humbled and inspired everyday, by the very essence of the human spirit when faced with a hardship such as somatic and mental illness; I find myself witnessing both the fragile vulnerability of the human essence at one moment and then the remarkable resilience of the human body and spirit at the very next. It is this idea of human resilience in relation to my medical education that sparked an interest in me to explore how the same idea could be applied to the arguably remote topic of economic crisis; and yet this topic of economic crisis may not be so remote after all. In spite of everything, an economic crisis has profound impacts on the very aspects of everyday living that threaten the well-being of an individual, of a population, and on a biological, mental and social level. Thus, the solution to this crisis may in fact lay in the innate ability of a human being to recover successfully from hardship; it is simply a matter of empowering and enabling the surfacing of resilience to facilitate this recovery on an individual and population level.
In order for the people’s resilience to serve as a steadfast solution to the current crisis, one must put the human aspect back into it. The term “economic” crisis can be misleading and act as a roadblock, as it removes the human impact from the crisis. Perhaps, more appropriately, it should be termed a “humanitarian” crisis; a crisis with a human face. In putting the human aspect back into the crisis we are better able to pay tribute to the importance of human resilience as a solution to draw Greece out of crisis; let us not disservice this “best feature” of Greece.
How does one begin to translate the abstract concept of human resilience into concrete strategies that have the potential to carry Greece into the future? Firstly, one must seek to gain an understanding of what makes certain individuals resilient; what characteristics, strategies, environmental and social supports allow certain people to not only cope but thrive in times of crisis. Strategically, one could create a task force that would conduct focus groups in multiple regions of Greece, bringing together individuals who are coping well despite the crisis, from different demographics and professional backgrounds. This information regarding strategies and resources being used, resulting in individuals being resilient and coping successfully, would be advantageous for public policy makers and Non-Governmental Organizations. It would offer data on what initiatives are presently effective in supporting the Greeks and what work still needs to be done to ensure that each Greek citizen is given the right tools to be resilient against a backdrop of crisis. This foundation of knowledge, so to speak, would be an essential step towards better understanding and defining the current state of resilience, methods of coping and support systems that are present in Greece.
Subsequently, after establishing this foundation of knowledge, a system could be created to allow resilient individuals to network and share their knowledge, initiatives and strategies with one another, as well as encourage mentorship by connecting resilient individuals with those who are having difficulties in light of the crisis. To allow for an effective networking and mentorship system, with a very personal, local and grassroots flavour, I envision a special social-media application. This application would follow the model of an electricity grid; individuals would have the chance to share their resilience strategies (initiatives, social supports, online resources, etc.) along with their profession (entrepreneur, doctor, etc.). This information would then be matched to geographic location on an interactive map. This application would allow Greek citizens to quickly access information about how people who share similar demographics in their region are coping, which resources exist in their area, and which initiatives are being spearheaded by fellow peers. Like an electricity grid, this application would promote connectivity through networking and mentorship, allowing practices that promote resilience to be encouraged and shared. This strategy will not only promote the efficient and effective sharing of knowledge but also, more importantly, foster a sense of community among users; a sense of community that would have the potential to scale the enormity of the crisis down to a more local level that may be perceived as more manageable. People will find new-found hope in local efforts and feel empowered by social and local support systems. The same crisis that once seemed untouchable in the headlines will be brought down to life as to promote collaboration and work on a local level, sparking action from individuals.
Finally, let us consider mental health as a root source of human resilience and as an area that, if invested in and developed, can encourage well-being and resilience in Greece. To accomplish this, one could establish mental-health clinics in isolated, rural regions, led exclusively by psychology and medical students. This would increase the resilience of isolated populations by enhancing mental health, while offering an amazing educational opportunity for students. In addition, a national campaign targeting the stigma of seeking help for mental illness and advocating for the importance of mental health, would be beyond worthwhile.
Thus far, despite having explored strategies that would allow for the utilization of the Greek people’s resilience as a means of carrying Greece into the future, roadblocks beyond typical financial and human resource constraints do persist. Many resilient individuals are leaving Greece for promise of a better future abroad. This “brain-drain,” or perhaps “resilience-drain” in our case, while an inevitable aspect of any crisis leading to emigration, presents a challenge. Also, it can prove difficult to gain buy-in and trust when the results of a given program are not instantaneous, despite its long-term and sustainable benefits; after all, delayed gratification in times of crisis can be a frightening notion.
Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” I truly believe that, despite the challenges outlined, the future of Greece lies in the inner strength and resilience of its people; a simple notion, yet one that has the potential to amount to wonderful things!