By Naava Abigail Busenze Balagadde



noun: resiliency; plural noun: resiliencies

Comes from the Latin word ‘resilio’ meaning ‘to bounce back’. The successful adaptation to challenging life experiences (Tugade & Fredrickson, 2004).

“Until the lion tells the story, the hunter will always be the hero.”

Ewe-mina Proverb

Research continues to reiterate that trauma can separate and weaken a community, however, it cannot disregard that it can also unite and strengthen through resilience. Resilience is the ability to cope with the stressors of life and is the maintenance of homeostasis, also known as the equilibrium or balance in which one can adapt to the challenges in life. Exposure to trauma, regardless of how big or small you may think it is, can cause interference in one’s life routine that demands this. 

Resilience can be understood through three different definitions: 

  1. Trait resilience focuses on the individual’s ability to cope with adversity with successful development. 
  2. Outcome defined resilience is measured by the achievement of socially desirable outcomes, such as educational achievement or good cognitive functioning. 
  3. The process focused approach considers resilience as one’s ability to recover and adapt to adverse life events.   

Regardless of the definitions, resilience can result in becoming more empathetic and adaptable, acquiring the essence of Ubuntu. This is the true essence of humanity, defined as ‘I am because we are’ amongst the Bantu people of Central, Eastern, and Southern Africa. The 13th recommendation, coined by the Racial Justice Network, holds this truth as it acknowledges that we cannot combat a situation individually without considering the impact it has on the collective (RJN, 2020). It insinuates that life’s challenges are not experienced alone, but as trauma can be inherited, so can resilience. 

One way of inheriting resilience is through the art form of storytelling. I have been journaling since I was 10 years old, writing down my stories to bring out what was in my mind into physical form. I believe that my journaling practice emulates, if not, is a form of storytelling – whether there is an audience or not.

Journaling is the most vulnerable and emotionally intimate experience I have had with myself. It has allowed me to express any traumas I may have experienced and become a path for healing I could provide for myself when professional help may not have been accessible. I have researched why that is. Why is writing down how I feel so important to me? Why is it so healing for me to storytelling even when there is no audience? How does storytelling involve the 13th recommendation? And how does storytelling have an impact on the community?

I personally believe that resilience should also be defined through storytelling as not only does it facilitate an understanding of human behaviour, but it is also a tool to resist oppression. Storytelling is a rich tradition that can be experienced from music and dancing to the talking drum and plants in indigenous communities; as well as the general oral or written recital of a narrative. It is very common within African cultures to communicate through storytelling to share, warn and teach across generations.

Storytelling as an agent of resilience has the ability to foster effective healing , spiritual communion and build a sense of community. This can also be explained through the social change ecosystem framework created by Deepa Iyer:

When an individual or community experiences psychological impact such as racial trauma across generations, it can devalue their sense of self and erode the relationship within the community. This is where storytelling becomes an integral part of harbouring resilience by restoring cultural identities. Storytelling can be seen as “counter-hegemonic stories”  meaning it has the ability to dismantle the negative narrative posed on oppressed groups.

An important aspect of resilience is the access to social connections. Ubuntu states that one cannot understand the self as an individual but within a community. This can be seen in an Ethiopian study that looked into storytelling in music and inter-generational healing in Oromia. They analysed interviews of Ethiopians within different generations and found that music was a form of storytelling that provided reconciliation and peaceful coexistence across the generations, essential for resilience. The music was storytelling used within groups to create resilience to resist the adversity faced by both the individual and the community.       

Additionally, the Afro-centric perspective recognises the importance of collectivism in resilience and holds an emphasis on community healing. To meet human needs, the community creates opportunities in order to achieve what would be difficult to achieve alone with upholding commitments such as unity, trust, love, uplifting elders who are the collective memory of the community and respect for nature. This has been developed in a framework known as Community Healing and Resistance Through Storytelling. This looks beyond the individualistic approach centering the community to help heal the individual. The three major components of this framework are:

Social change values, individual roles, and the broader ecosystem.

Deepa Iyer
  1. Justice focusing on being both the outcome of and condition of community healing.
  2. Cultural syntonic processes are the drawing of relationships between abstract ideas and cultural acts. An example of this would be storytelling as it aims to create a new narrative for the trauma experience as well as bring ideas into action (Burkett, 2017).
  3. Connectedness, Collective Memory, and Critical consciousness. These are the three key psychological dimensions to which storytelling provides a connection between the individuals within the community to establish healing and resilience from the adversity faced . 

A cognitive map is provided by the collective memory obtained through storytelling to help re-examine the individual’s ways of being and behavioural patterns that could guide community healing. The C-HeARTS narrative therapy ensures that you are sharing your personal story with others to facilitate the reframing of what once was a negative cognitive state to a more positive state, achieving resilience.

I personally find storytelling through journaling incredibly helpful for me to re-narrate my experiences and thought processes which I share in my workshops. Storytelling is an integral part of many communities since it harbours healing properties that provide catharsis. It disrupts the erasure of resilience by reminding those of their stories to find strength, to warn and to teach.  Just as trauma can be inherited, so can resilience. 

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