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7 Characteristics of a Resilient Voice

Updated: Aug 9, 2020

Resilient Voice Introduction

2020 has been a year of uncertainty and upheaval. As economic and social systems are tested, racial and economic inequalities rise to the surface. Our changing world is largely fed to us through media algorithms which validate our views and perpetuate the growing polarization on the public landscape. It seems we have forgotten how to listen, how to disagree, and how to meet each other in a shared respect for humanity.


I believe now is a time of great possibility. In this global pause we have an opportunity to expand our perspective - refine and establish systems that demonstrate respect, integrity, and care. We have an opportunity to engage in dialogue, have difficult conversations, listen to those whose voices have been stifled, seek to understand those we disagree with, and clarify what is needed so that we can take intelligent action forward.

We all have a part to play. It is not how big your following, or enormous your influence, but the quality and resilience of the voice you bring to the table. To speak up with intelligence, to listen with humility, and to engage in our world with grace and integrity. Now is the time for resilient voices to rise.

Over the next several weeks I will be exploring what it is to have a “Voice of Resilience” offering stories from some of the great leaders of our time and inquiring as to what a resilient voice is, how we cultivate it, and how we demonstrate resilience as we engage in difficult and meaningful conversation.

“When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.”

Malala Yousafzai, a fierce presence and global advocate for girl’s rights to education won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, at just 17 years of age.

Upon her birth in Pakistan Malala’s father sought to give his daughter every opportunity that would be given to a boy. A teacher, Ziauddin Yousafzai ran a girls school in their village. In 2008 the Taliban took control of their town in Swat valley, created extremist polices and prohibited education for girls. Malala had to leave her school though she did not stop her education.

In September 2008 Malala gave a speech, "How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?” in Peshawar after the Taliban began attacking the girls school is Swat. At only 11 years old Malala blogged for the BBC about living under Taliban rule. She won Pakistan's National Youth Peace Prize for her advocacy and became a target for the Taliban.

In October 2012, a 15 year old Yousafzai was shot in the head on bus home from school. In critical condition she was flown first to Peshawar and later to Birmingham England. Though her injuries were critical, requiring a medically induced coma and multiple surgeries, she suffered no brain damage. In March 2013 She began attending school in Birmingham.

On her 16th birthday Yousafzai gave a speech at the United Nations highlighting girls’ rights to education. She urged international leaders to change their policies and take action against illiteracy, poverty, and terrorism.

Today Yousafzai continues her work, internationally advocating for a girls’ rights to education. The Malala Fund amplifies girls voices, holds national & international leaders accountable, and invests in local educational activities to give all girls the education they deserve. She is a renowned writer, international speaker, and a voice of resilience for women and education.

Cultivating the 7 Characteristics of a Resilient Voice.

Those who display resilient voices, the great leaders, authors, speakers of our time and role models of daily life demonstrate these 7 characteristics. We may take these as a guide in how to cultivate resilience in our own voice.

1) Self Awareness & Acceptance

Self awareness is the conscious knowledge of one’s emotions and characteristics. In order to grow self awareness we need self acceptance as it allows us to meet out idiosyncrasies, reactive behaviours, skills, emotions, and inner dialogue without judgment or repression. In self awareness we speak to the truth of our experience and are empowered to leverage our skills, mitigate our limitations, and cultivate those characteristics which we value.

Cultivating Self Awareness & Acceptance

We cultivate self awareness and self acceptance through relationship to self and others. Healthy relationships teach us who we are and help us integrate an inherent sense of self worth. We may seek support from mental health professionals, spiritual practice, or speakers and authors with resilient voices to learn from their wisdom.

Cultivating a relationship with ourself builds both self awareness and self acceptance. Meditation practices, introspection, and mindfulness help us recognize our behaviours, emotions, and conditioning. With self understanding we make more life affirming choices and thus cultivate qualities of acceptance, esteem, and confidence.

2) Growth & Possibility Mindset

Even in the most dire of circumstances the resilient voice recognizes that growth is possible. This mindset motivates us to keep learning, face adversity, speak up, and strive forward.

A growth mindset means we believe that skills can be learned, change is possible, and understanding can be taught or cultivated. We are malleable beings that grow with commitment and effort. Yousafzai spoke out for the possibility and right to education for all girls even as the Taliban attacked the school in her village. She believed change is possible and continues to fight for this possibility today.

Cultivating a Growth Mindset

Begin by recognizing and questioning where you believe a circumstance or skill is fixed. When we question our assumptions we open the door to possibility. As we cultivate curiosity we see the situation from a greater perspective and can learn what step is next.

  • Instead of “I already know this” try “What can I learn here?”

  • Instead of giving an excuse not to move forward, challenge yourself to find three good reasons to move forward.

  • Ask yourself this: if the pressure were off what tiny step could I take to move myself forward? Then do it.

3) Become a Survivor instead of Staying a Victim

Resilience is the ability to recover from difficulty and keep going. Yousafzai was shot in the head and yet nine months later bravely spoke out at the UN. When we become a survivor we take the power of our pain and suffering and channel it for good.

“With guns you can kill terrorists, with education you can kill terrorism.”

~Malala Yousafzai

It is important to recognize, the traumas, oppression, and suffering incurred on ourselves and others. Acknowledging and tending to our own victimhood may be a necessary part of healing but remaining there is disempowering. A victim is helpless, harmed, and needs saving. A survivor has integrated their experience, rebuilt and strengthened their inner foundation, and is able to use their voice to remediate their pain and prevent the suffering of others. Becoming a survivor is resilience in action.

Cultivating Survivor Mentality.

We become a survivor when we choose to move beyond our experience. This decision creates new possibility - taking our once detrimental pain and allowing it to fuel our inner strength and resilience. Patience, self care, professional help, and effective support systems are invaluable in this process as is inspiration from those like Yousafzai, who have demonstrated what is possible.

In some cases we may be attached to our victimhood as a strategy to get attention, sympathy, or gain power with manipulation. By compassionately and honestly recognizing these behaviours we can address the needs this strategy is seeking to meet; attention, value, purpose, self worth, among others. In doing so, this attachment loses its influence and we become empowered as a survivor

4) Healthy Relationship with Stress.

Alia Crum of Stanford university found in her studies of stress that viewing stress as a helpful part of life is associated with better health, emotional well-being and productivity at work – even during periods of high stress. It is more important to embrace stress then it is to see it as problematic. A resilient voice is the voice we need to meet stress - to engage when it is uncomfortable, listen when we disagree, and speak up when no one will.

Cultivating a Healthy Relationship to Stress

We build a healthy relationship to stress by engaging with stress. Start in those scenarios that are uncomfortable yet not overwhelming. Build your capacity by growing your confidence and skill patiently. Through small wins, and possible courageous feats, we build the ability and confidence to stand up, speak up, or listen as required in more stressful scenarios.

5) Purpose

Masala Yousafzai’s dedication to her work is about all girls having a right to education. A resilient voice finds its power in the “we” not the “I.”

There is a greater good, a greater purpose for a resilient voice then our solo desires. It upholds the values that affect humanity. To honestly ask for what we need we demonstrates respect for ourselves and another. To humbly share our vulnerability creates space for intimacy and connection. Yes, we meet our needs but it goes beyond just ourselves. A resilient voice is an ambassador of connection and a vehicle of service.

Cultivating a Sense of Purpose

Why? When we ask ourselves why we want to speak up, share our voices, or listen it can deepen our motivation and help us to; a) find the courage to take action, or b) realize whether what we have to say needs to be said.

Often we fight unnecessary fights because we want to be right, be seen, be heard. When our purpose goes beyond this ‘self’ then our voice carries the possibility of connection, understanding, and growth. If I choose to talk to may partner because it’s important to me we better understand one another and meet each other in respect, it’s very different then if my purpose is solely to prove that I am right.

6) Compassion

“I don't want revenge on the Taliban, I want education for sons and daughters of the Taliban.” ~Malala Yousafzai

Compassion is the nectar of resilience - to be strong enough to see beyond the unsavoury attributes or actions of another and connect instead to their humanity. Compassion may be a source of purpose, as Yousafzai’s compassion for the girls who cannot fight for their education, or a means of forgiveness. It is through compassion that the perpetuity of violent reactions and willful ignorance can cease. A compassionate voice does not condone harmful behaviour but recognizes the humanity of the person beneath it. It speaks and acts from love first.

Cultivating Compassion

In compassion we connect with empathy and a desire for understanding. We build compassion with time and cultivate it as a skill. Begin with those you love easily, then expand to those who are suffering. Let it grow little by little and perhaps one day you will find genuine compassion for those you thought you would never forgive.

*If you would like to dive deeper into cultivating compassion please check out a previous blog 'Communicate from Love' where I explore communication from the lens of 4 Buddhist attitudes

7) Model Integrity and Altruism

“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Resilient voices adhere to those characteristics they seek to cultivate in the world. Their words and temperament reflect intelligence and care - they speak and act from their heart and head. They are responsible for themselves and take ownership over their actions, emotions, beliefs, and perceptions.

Cultivating Integrity and Altruism

It is easy to default to unconscious patterned behaviour; blame, lashing out or falling numb and quiet. Our nervous system sets into motion our responses often before we have time to recognize what is happening.

To become the change is a wholistic effort. Each of the qualities listed above helps us integrate the presence, perspective, and mindfulness to engage life in this way. We might look to other resilient voices and learn from their behaviour - asking ourselves how they might respond to our current circumstance. The beauty is that we are malleable and we can change our behaviours through dedicated effort and time.

Engaging a Resilient Voice

A resilient voice arises through self understanding, connection, courage, and willingness to grow. Even as we think about resilience we we may find that their are certain people, ideas, and scenarios where our voice feels foreign - either becoming impassioned and reactive or going numb or disconnected.

You are not alone in this. This is a practice, a cultivation, and a lifelong vocation. In the next blog in this series “Resilient Voice” I will explore the physiological and psychological reasons we lose our capacity to communicate effectively;and offer a guide to settle the nervous system and re-establish the connection between your heart, mind, and resilient voice.

Thank you for your patronage, it is a pleasure to share this journey with you.


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