I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.
This fact, from an originally untitled poem in Leaves of Grass, is a foundation of the resilient person, the resilient farm, the resilient system.
The resilient person has many and varied interests, just as an ecosystem is composed of many and varied species. The resilient system has response diversity. When I’m asked to give a lecture to overseas students, I put it this way: The resilient person sitting in this classroom has multiple impulses coursing through him. Part of him wants to listen to this lecture and understand new ideas. Part of him wants to talk to that pretty girl in the second row. He also wants to get outside, ride his motorcycle and play basketball. He wants to translate this talk for his friend who doesn’t speak English. He wants to get some food because he overslept and missed breakfast this morning.
All of those are good impulses. But, if the fire alarm rings, the resilient person follows another impulse: escape from the building. The resilient person or system produces the response which best fits the situation. When the ground is bare, the resilient ecosystem quickly grows weeds and grasses to cover it up and prevent erosion. But when the trees have grown tall, the grass and weed seed are dormant.
The resilient system maintains all these potentialities. On the surface, the resilient system may appear chaotic. This summer we visited a very prosperous farm between Durango and Silverton, Colorado, which was a dairy and cheese farm, a vegetable farm, a fruit orchard, a beef cattle farm, a restaurant, fish ponds. People were running everywhere in seeming chaos, but all components were working together to create one of the longest lasting farms in the county.
Scans of brain activity appear very chaotic. Cells all through the brain are firing no matter what activity the person is focused on. Only during an epileptic seizure is the brain orderly with all neurons firing at once. Scans of heart activity are similar, the only time heart cells are totally synchronized is right before a heart attack.
Chaos is built into nature as the ability to respond in multiple ways depending on what is needed at the time. Chaos is a misunderstood child.
The resilient system uses chaos, but it also uses the exact opposite of chaos.
Energy and persistence conquer all things.
Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not. Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not. The world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
Resilience is a set of dualistic qualities: chaotic yet persistent and organized; innovative yet conservative; organized locally, but networked globally; independent yet closely tied to others; building assets, but not hoarding; prolific but controlled; diverse but only when complementary; stable yet welcoming transformation.
These are the qualities we are studying in farms, communities and regions of the world. They are also the qualities we are looking for in research assistants and long-term residents of Meadowcreek.
The author of the poem at the beginning of this essay was eager to be friends with, literally, every single person he ever met. But he also valued time alone to think and write. He didn’t go to fancy schools, and he taught himself writing by soaking up Shakespeare and other classics on his own. For him, “America” was an ideal that anyone could strive for, an ideal of independence, equality, optimism, and brotherly love.
We look for similar qualities in research assistants. We value experience and practical skills, though formal education can be a plus. We don’t denigrate the ideals of America, but we may vigorously criticize particular policies.
We love innovative people at Meadowcreek. If you are one of them, we have plenty of good food and comfortable places to rest. But the innovation must be of a certain type. It must take into account the history and traditions of the region. That means it must be conservative in the ecological sense. It conserves what works from the past while innovating to meet the challenges of the future.
A major purpose of Meadowcreek is to help young people learn about resilient living. Sooner or later they will move on to their own farms or the next stage in life. One couple who has contributed immensely to Meadowcreek is in the process of leaving. We will miss them, but their moving on has opened the immediate opportunity for new people to get involved at Meadowcreek.
The cooler nights lately remind us that we need to have a good supply of wood for the winter. So, it would be better to get here in time enough to get some firewood.
Then again, one group arrived on January 1 in the coldest winter we’ve had lately and they’ve done just fine.
Quotes on persistence were from Benjamin Franklin and Calvin Coolidge.
Walt Whitman wrote the first lines in Leaves of Grass. The poem is now called Song of Myself.
Find more about chaos and the eight dualistic qualities of resilience in our free book you can download at this link.