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Resilience and bottoms-up communities

For nearly two decades, researchers have used the Adverse Childhood Experiences survey to quantify the risks associated with life events that happen when children are 18 and younger and have lasting impacts on their lives. You can calculate your own ACE score, by answering a simple 10-question survey. The survey will ask you yes-or-no questions related to trauma, neglect and family dysfunction.

Any score makes one more susceptible to overdose, addiction, and almost every adult chronic disease including cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.

J.D. Vance, a successful lawyer and the author of Hillbilly Elegy, took the test and found he had an ACE score of 7.

How did he thrive with little disease or addiction burden?

He had people who loved him and created safety for him, mainly his grandmother.

This effect creates resilience: the foundational attribute that allows one to overcome stress. Like a palm tree that survives hurricane-force winds because it bends almost to the ground, resilience is the trait of absorbing life’s experiences, remaining flexible and agile as we grow.

Resilience allows one to grow from stress and from failures. Failures set us back only if we don't continue to try. Failing and continuing to evolve is learning.

I think that is why childhood prodigies and adult prodigies are different.

Childhood prodigies are told they are great, better than everyone else. They then often develop a fear of failure and lack the flexibility to learn and grow by making mistakes.

Adult prodigies, on the other hand, make lots of mistakes, learn and grow.

Malcolm Gladwell, in Outliers, told us that the secret to mastery is 10,000 hours of practice. That is a lot of failing and learning.

I think that is also why Nasim Taleb identified bottoms-up organizations as antifragile and top-down organizations as fragile, in his book, Antifragile.

It is like adult prodigies compared with childhood prodigies. Adult prodigies are antifragile and childhood prodigies are fragile.

I think that communities, states and countries are the same. Top-down management forces these communities to rely on a very few leaders that sit at the top of the organization charts. If they succeed, their communities succeed and are sustained.

But these are fragile systems that can collapse if one or two top people move away, become ill, or lose interest in the larger community.

Bottoms-up communities are led from below by a broad swath of people with diverse skills, interests, and motivations. These communities are anti-fragile and learn from their mistakes and grow. There is a constant influx of new ideas and people into the leadership group. This is the strength of community coalitions, taking responsibility for their futures. They are agile, flexible and learning.

They are antifragile.

I’m still thinking about Tom Friedman’s op-ed in the New York Times last week. The health of a state is based less on its standard of living and more on the strength of its communities.

Recovery and resilience are bottoms-up phenomena.

Like nature, it is an interdependent environment, where everything and everybody ends up contributing to the whole.

This is way to rebuild and regrow - like what is happening in West Virginia.