ON MORAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL RESILIENCE
Steve at ERMB has already commented on the most recent post* by Wiggins at OSD, entitled “ Of Moral Resilience and Technical Resilience” where Wiggins wrote:
“There are two related ideas here. One way to understand them is as two aspects of resilience. The first issue is resilience on what Boyd would call the moral level. The second issue is resilience on a technical level. There is a complex feedback loop between these two aspects of resilience; it leads to both excitement and confusion. This is my attempt to explore that relationship. Be warned, my enthusaism might overwhelm my clarity.
Moral resilience is what Boyd focused upon late in his life and a topic that Chet Richards has expanded upon in Certain to Win. The issue they consider is why certain organizations have been able to consistently prevail against adversity. They have concluded that success depends upon maintaining internal cohesion while disrupting the cohesion of your adversaries. When Mark discusses the importance of consilience, I see him implicitly recognizing this. It is not sufficient to just bounce back quickly, because such a strategy is inherently reactive. It abdicates iniative, conceeding the most important factor to one’s competitors. “
Very much in agreement. Moreover, Wiggins direct reference to Colonel John Boyd’s ideas allows us to move the resilience ball further down the field from the organization or group (moral resilience) to the individual(psychological resilience). In Patterns of Conflict, Boyd summarized the “Essence of Moral Conflict” which relates directly to a group’s resiliency:
Essence of Moral Conflict
Impressions of danger to one’s well being and survival
Impressions, or atmosphere, generated by events that appear ambiguous, erratic, contradictory, unfamiliar, chaotic, etc.
Atmosphere of doubt and suspicion that loosens human bonds among members of an organic whole or between organic wholes
Internal drive to think and take action without being urged
Power to adjust or change in order to cope with new or unforeseen circumstances
Interaction of apparently disconnected events or entities in a connected way
As a military theorist, Colonel Boyd was concerned primarily with collectives – the enemy, one’s own forces, the uncommitted civilian population – into which individuals and their behavior were perforce subsumed. However, Boyd’s elements of moral conflict and some of his other ideas can also help explain an individual’s psychological resiliency or lack thereof, being affected by extrinsic factors like social relationships and shared values.
When an organization goes beyond a mere functional objective and deliberately inculcates a coherent and identifiable set of values in its members, it is engaged in building moral resilience. We are familiar with many examples – the cadet honor code at West Point, Bushido of Japan’s medieval samurai, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s philosophy of nonviolence – all of which were adopted by large numbers of followers and expressed within such groups not only with a common vocabulary but with mutual understanding.
These programs of moral resilience were reinforced by the dynamics of a social network so that individuals, when put under stress or hazard, would face not only a trial of their conscience but the expectations of their peers, superiors and subordinates that they live up to the movement’s ideals. Psychologically, this would tend to increase individual resiliency in the following ways:
* Reduction of Uncertainty:
There is no moral confusion only a moral choice. Values, once deeply internalized represent a cognitive frame through which all situations are evaluated. Paralysis is avoided and the individual moves quickly to decide and to act ( Conversely, uncertainty is increased not by increasing the level of stress – many hard-core believers in a cause will welcome sacrifice as proof of their devotion – but by delegitimizing the underlying values that provide the resilience).
*Reduction of Anxiety:
As the individual enjoys the benefits of moral resilience their response to stress is less. Their thoughts are focused, clear, determined to adapt, overcome or if need be, accept the consequences of a situation in a way that does not betray their values (Conversely, the way to raise the anxiety level here is not through a frontal attack but by offering temptation ).
*Increase in Motivation:
Resilient individuals faced with a challenge or a threat are apt to react by fighting back – to take the initiative, as Boyd suggested- while identifying all the more closely with the value-set that provides the core of their moral resilience. Persecution seldom does anything but reinforce the ideological intensity of the group being oppressed ( Conversely, a lack of friction with the outside world -despite the best efforts of group leaders to incite it – can often instigate a devastating cycle of ideological de-escalation and complacency among the membership. A Zen proverb relates that if you wish to fence in your bull, you give him a large meadow).
Moral resilience operates on multiple levels. First, at the level of an organization as a result or product of what Colonel Boyd described as:
“A grand ideal, overarching theme, or noble philosophy that represents a coherent paradigm within which individuals as well as societies can shape and adapt to unfolding circumstances—yet offers a way to expose flaws of competing or adversary systems. Such a unifying vision should be so compelling that it acts as a catalyst or beacon around which to evolve those qualities that permit a collective entity or organic whole to improve its stature in the scheme of things.”
Secondly, as the membership internalize the values of the “unifying vision” and acquire moral resilience which in turn produces psychological resilience in the form of the individual’s behavioral response to stress or threat.
Thirdly, moral resilience is itself an attractive meme, a ” beacon” that draws support in the form of new members ( a “catalyst”) or the admiration of uncommitted observers. Or perhaps, repeated demonstrations of moral resilience may have a daunting effect or undermine the morale of adversaries and competitors.
Resilence operates across a spectrum of dimensions and by overlapping your levels of resilient scenarios they will become mutually reinforcing.