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The Paris Attacks

The November 13 Paris Attacks leave us in shock. In spite of many terrorist attacks in the past 10 years Europeans have no experience with war. The past 70 years were pretty much peaceful and wars have been fought outside of the continent. But as violence is at the borders and closes in on us, we might need to change our actions and get used to the risks of violence.
I am not a specialist in the matter. But the question is how we can defend ourselves mentally against  the attacks of a fundamentalist minority. If we let ourselves live in constant fear, we will perish as well. I guess that is also what the attackers want: paralyse our society.
I heard Eric De Soir talking about community resilience as an answer to these events. Eric intervenes as psychologist in crises to help people and policy-makers on how to deal with calamities. He has been awarded with the honorary title of psychologist of the year and is highly acclaimed.
I had not heard of the word before. So I have researched a bit and I have found a very interesting article by Norris e.a. (2008) which gives a framework. Here is the summary. You can find the article here: .


This article describes disaster as a potentially traumatic event that is collectively experienced, has an acute onset, and is time delimited; disasters  are attributed to natural, technological, or human causes. The Paris attacks surely fits this description. It’s still too early to tell, but this attack might become a historic moment. It’s comparable to the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in 1915, which turned public opinion against the Germans in the first year of the war.

The process of community resilience

Resilience is defines as a process linking a set of adaptive capacities to a positive trajectory of functioning and adaptation after a disturbance. This is the model they have put forward:

community resilience

Model of stress resistance and resilience over time: Resistance occurs when resources are sufficiently robust, redundant, or rapid to buffer or counteract the immediate effects of the stressor such that no dysfunction occurs. Total resistance is hypothesized to be rare in the case of severe, enduring, or highly surprising events, making transient situational dysfunction the more likely and normative result in the immediate aftermath of disasters. Resilience occurs when resources are sufficiently robust, redundant, or rapid to buffer or counteract the effects of the stressor such that a return to functioning, adapted to the altered environment, occurs. For people and communities, this adaptation is manifest in wellness. Vulnerability occurs when resources were not sufficiently robust, redundant, or rapid to create resistance or resilience, resulting in persistent dysfunction. The more severe, enduring, and surprising the stressor, the stronger the resources must be to create resistance or resilience. (Norris e.a., 2008)

So the question is how to get back to a positive way of functioning after this massive disturbance, not to resist and stick to our old ways and not to be weak (vulnerable) and stay in permanent state of dysfunctioning . The latter could be that we would change our ways in an unhealthy way: staying indoors, abandoning certain freedoms. A resilient way of coping with the events could be that we learn from that, that we integrate routines in our daily life to manage and reduce risks, that we become collectively more vigilant, that we change the way we deal with refugees, that we adapt international politics. A resilient approach could contain new individual behaviours, but also structural and cultural changes.

Adaptive Capabilities

The article talks about community wellness as outcome of resilience. It’s defined as a high prevalence of wellness in the community, defined as high and non-disparate levels of mental and behavioral health, role functioning, and quality of life in constituent populations. 
To achieve that wellness and be resilient, a community needs adaptive capabilities. The next figure gives an overview of these capabilities.
Economic development is an important capability. Poorer communities have a hard time defending themselves. Natural disasters have a higher toll in poor countries.
Social capital is about having connections. Integrated communities have a higher resilience than fragmented communities.
Information and communication feeds into the awareness. The Paris Attacks were broadcasted almost live. We have all seen snippets of films and horrible pictures of what happened at the Bataclan concert hall. They do offer a certain narrative of the event. But there will be another narrative needed. And responsible media will have to make sure that this event receives its place.
Community Competence is about having the necessary competencies to act.

A Roadmap toward community resilience

Interestingly enough the authors give a roadmap to develop community resilience in face of disaster. I think this could be applied to the Paris Attacks.

  1. To increase their resilience to disaster, communities must develop economic resources, reduce risk and resource inequities, and attend to their areas of greatest social vulnerability.
  2. To access social capital, one of the primary resources of any community, local people must be engaged meaningfully in every step of the mitigation process.
  3. Pre-existing organizational networks and relationships are the key to rapidly mobilizing emergency and ongoing support services for disaster survivors.
  4. Interventions are needed that boost and protect naturally occurring social supports in the aftermath of disasters.
  5. Communities must plan, but they must also plan for not having a plan; this means that communities must exercise flexibility and focus on building effective and trusted information and communication resources that function in the face of unknowns.

Remedy and Antidote

We do not know what’s a head. We cannot decide on the cards we get in the game, but we can decide on how to play them. Building resilience can help our communities in coping with the increasing numbers of violence by a small and unpredictable number of terrorists. I also believe that resilience is als the answer to prevent these acts of violence, especially when they are committed by people that have been living in the very community they attack. Social capital, community competence etc. are skills that could well be an antidote against radicalization.
This blog is my way of contributing to the discussion in this matter. My thoughts go to those people who have lost their lives in the Paris Attacks and in other recent attacks (Ankara, Beirut). I offer the people close to the victims my condolences.

David Ducheyne is the founder of Otolith. As a former HR and business leader he focuses now on humanising strategy execution.

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