Inner Resilience: Connecting Heart, Mind and Faith

December 7, 2015 | 4:59 pm
Katharine Hayhoe and Emily Powell

Storm surges flooding a low-lying Pacific island; Arctic villages toppling on the edge of an eroded coastline; relentless downpours destroying homes and livelihoods in India—wherever we live, whatever our values, culture, or politics, climate change impacts intensify the need for resilience. Supporting resilience and adaptation of human communities and ecosystems is an important focus of the climate talks. Yet a new type of resilience, one that we may be less inclined to think about, has become part of the conversations—that of inner resilience.

Here at the international climate negotiations (known as COP21), leaders and representatives from a broad variety of faith traditions are emphasizing the importance of engaging both the head and the heart in reaching a climate agreement. In a Tuesday afternoon session that facilitated interfaith discussions, Sonja Ohlsson of the Brahma Kumaris Centre in Copenhagen put a name to this concept. She calls it inner resilience.

Faith and spirituality cultivate a sense of meaning and purpose. For the majority of the nearly 6 billion people who belong to a specific religion or faith tradition, this purpose includes care for others and for this planet on which we live. The Bible instructs Christians to love others as God has loved us, particularly the disadvantaged and those in need. It adds that humans were given responsibility—often referred to as stewardship—to care for all living things. Similarly, Buddhist teachings emphasize compassion and loving kindness and the responsibility to protect all beings, human or otherwise. Faith and spirituality can cultivate inner resilience and motivate action from a loving perspective, rather than from a position of fear and self-interest.

A show of climate solidarity in Zurich, Switzerland on November 28, as negotiations get underway. Photo: under creative commons license.

A show of climate solidarity in Zurich, Switzerland on November 28, as negotiations get underway. Photo: under creative commons license.

The Stockholm Resilience Centre defines principles of resilience thinking that typically apply to socio-ecological systems. Two of those, biodiversity and connectivity, also apply directly to inner resilience.

In a system with many actors, to maintain biodiversity we must understand the respective roles of these actors and be prepared to work with the similarities and differences that exist among them. Bishop Efraim Tendero, known simply as “Bishop Ef”, is Secretary-General of the World Evangelical Alliance and an official member of the Philippine Delegation. In a Friday session hosted by the Christian conservation group A Rocha, he emphasized the need for diverse groups to work together on solutions to environmental and moral issues. According to Bishop Ef, transformational change at the national scale requires the full participation of at least four key groups, which he called “the pillars of societal transformation:” governments, NGOs, businesses, and religious groups. He illustrated this concept with the image of a table or a chair: with two or even three legs, it can be unsteady, but with four legs it will stand firm. By working together and embracing rather than rejecting others’ diverse views and approaches, he emphasized, we can protect the life that God has given us.

Connectivity is a concept often applied to landscape-scale conservation. Corridors of natural areas or habitats are restored and maintained to facilitate the movement of wildlife. As humans, our social communities are an essential form of connectivity. Through cultivating this connectivity, we have the ability to spread ideas, share values, and inspire new ways of thinking. This connectivity can allay fears, Ohlsson pointed out, build inner resilience, and encourage an active response to the challenges and conflicts we face today.

The ultimate goal of COP21 is to reach an effective agreement that will limit warming to 2°C, or to an even more ambitious level of 1.5°C that has been proposed by indigenous groups. The goal of these two weeks in Paris is to achieve the political will that’s needed to reach an effective agreement.

In this context, the concept of inner resilience becomes a potentially important component of effective, collective action on climate change. Climate change is already recognized as an issue of morality and social justice. Interfaith discussions at COP21 merely reinforce a growing recognition of the importance of social and religious action on these issues. Could a focus on inner resilience be the key to reaching an effective and successful global climate agreement that will carry us to 2020 and beyond?