Transformational Resilience: My Go-To Book for Hope

A guide to dealing with the psychosocial impacts of climate change and much more

Posted Mar 15, 2016

One would have to live far away from any sort of media to remain uninformed about all the "negative stuff" that is happening to our magnificent planet and its human and nonhuman inhabitants. Numerous people worldwide are working tirelessly to overcome the assaults to our planet and to our psyches and many, quite understandably, suffer from what's called secondary trauma and burnout. They get to a point where they just can't motivate themselves to continue working on this or that problem because it all seems so hopeless. In my own field that deals primarily with animal protection, secondary trauma and burnout are rather common (please see, for example, "Beating the Burnout While Working For a Compassionate World" and links therein). 

I recently learned about a new book by Bob Doppelt, Executive Director of The Resource Innovation Group (TRIG), called Transformational Resilience: How Trauma-informed Responses to Climate Disruption Can Catalyze Positive Change (the Kindle edition can be seen here), and as I read it it became immediately obvious that this book should be a must read for anyone working on any of the negative and daunting things that are happening in our challenging world that simply and unrelentingly eat away at our time, energy, and heart and seem utterly hopeless. While Doppelt concentrates on climate change, I simply substituted my own interests in animal protection and conservation, and I can easily see how any reader could readily substitute their own areas of concern. 

The book's description captures what it is all about:

This book calls on all climate programs to expand beyond emission reductions and physical adaption, to focus on assisting individuals and groups to learn skills to use the adversities caused by climate change to learn, grow and flourish. It urges mental health, education, and faith leaders to expand beyond post crisis-treatment to emphasize building preventative personal and psychosocial resilience skills. Failure to proactively help people deal constructively with the harmful mental health and psychosocial impacts of climate disruption will seriously impair the safety and health of individuals as well as the security and social wellbeing of organizations, communities and whole societies for generations to come. It will also delay or completely block efforts to reduce the impacts of climate disruption to manageable levels.

Doppelt begins by describing how natural human psychobiological reactions to the traumas and toxic stresses generated by climate disruption damage the psychological, emotional, and social wellbeing of individuals, organizations, communities and whole societies. Using numerous examples, including his own organization's Transformational Resilience program, the author describes methods and skills that may be used to build capacity within all levels of societies to avoid self and socially harmful reactions and use the traumas of climate change as catalysts to find new meaning, direction, and hope in life.

Using the author's extensive experience of advising public, private and non-profit sectors on using behavioral and systems change knowledge and tools, this book applies an important new perspective to the question of how to successfully respond to climate change.

On maintaining hope

I'm frankly not sure what to add to this description. I find myself reading different sections, taking copious notes, highlighting all over the place, putting the book down, and going back to it time and time again. There are numerous tables and figures that clearly lay out various ways to overcome different traumas. I also find myself reading and re-reading sections on how important it is to recognize that there is a global community of people working on different issues and how important it is to use common beliefs to foster working together.

I also find a lot of wisdom in Doppelt's discussion of hope (pp. 187ff) where he writes, "Hope is a state of mind grounded in the belief that the future can be better and that we can play a role in bringing that change about ... Hope is not wishful thinking. Believing that you will be immune from the impacts of climate disruption is illusion, not hope." There also are some wonderful case studies including the work of Nelson Mandela, Cesar Chavez, and others who faced incredibly difficult situations where it would have been very easy to give up hope and just take what came their way. 

Share messages of hope, inspiration, and community with youngsters

While Transformational Resilience surely is not a kid's book, there are numerous powerful and inspirational messages that readers can pass on to youngsters who also will be facing a challenging and trauma-producing world. As renowned humane educator Zoe Weil notes, "The world becomes what we teach." While we need to teach compassion, empathy, peace, coexistence, and love, we also need to provide resilience training in caring and positive ways. The world will not get better if people simply give up because it's all just too much to deal with. 

Going beyond "me" to "we"

I also find myself continuously taken by what Doppelt writes about the goal of Transformational Resilience (p. 86). "The goal of Transformational Resilience is not to help people accept or adjust to injustice, racism, or any other form of systematic oppression, violence, or poverty, or to the negative outcomes of climate disruption. Instead, the purpose is to help people become more effective in dealing with and alleviating these and other adversities by learning how to care for themselves and find meaning, direction, and hope in their lives by helping other people, and improving the condition of the natural environment and climate. ... to rise above the sole focus on 'Me' to find meaning and fulfillment in life by enhancing the 'We' which includes other people and the climate that make all life possible on planet Earth."

My humble suggestion is to read this book and to share it widely. That's just what I'm doing and I'm happy to have my own copy that I can mark up over and over again. It now looks like a tie-dye shirt that makes me smile. Transformational Resilience could well be a game changer and a daily dose might be a most effective way to counter all the "negative stuff" that's happening and to make sure that the future remains bright for our magnificent planet and its awesome array of beings. 

Marc Bekoff's latest books are Jasper's Story: Saving Moon Bears (with Jill Robinson), Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation, Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation, Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence, and The Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson). (Homepage: marcbekoff.com; @MarcBekoff)

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