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Op-Ed: Resilience — the way to transform PR after María

Author Vimary Rodríguez-Ferrer, is president of MINDS Mental & Behavioral Center.

As María, one of the worst hurricanes ever to hit Puerto Rico, ravaged the island, a lot of thoughts, ideas and questions came to mind.

The main one was: How the hell is Puerto Rico going to get back on its feet after this? Being in one of the worst political and economic times ever, having intelligent minds running away from a place with no professional and economic growth for them, with Hurricane Irma previously leaving us with one of the worst electric power outages ever, and now total devastation and chaos…how are we going to get our island back on its feet again?

I’m not just referring to the financial part. We all know that Puerto Rico will rely on funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the government will find ways to rebuild the island’s infrastructure.

But who takes care of the collective mind? How do you take advantage of this opportunity to raise a new psycho-social resilient scheme in our people?

My question goes more toward that collective mind of Puerto Ricans, who are already defeated, tired, drained, hopeless, distrusting and overwhelmed. It ends up with the need of being resilient. As I was preparing for the hurricane, I started to adapt to the idea of the possibilities involved.

The “what if’s” were many but, each one of them ended in “let’s do this…we will survive.” Mastering the mind, having a more positive perspective or outlook of life and looking for solutions and not only immersing ourselves in the problems. The skill to survive, to get through tough patches and getting gain out of adversity is resiliency.

Are Puerto Ricans resilient? Well, my opinion is that there are many who because of genetics or life experience, nature or nurture, or both, do have the skill to be resilient. And if you combine this with a brilliant mind…it may make a difference between rebuilding or transforming.

And it is time to transform Puerto Rico’s collective mind. And if my island is going to depend on this resilient and brilliant people to be reborn….what are we doing to gather them, help them develop optimal potential and use them as models? Leaders for the creation of a new collective mind.

Gather resilient minds
I’m not proposing a Noah’s Ark of some sort, picking the beautiful minds out there and isolating them from the rest. Nor to build an elite group in where only few are admitted and have the power. We already have those. I am just saying that my island should, must and needs to start pulling out actual, bold, brilliant, resilient minds and to pursue an early intervention program for future ones.

Why? When these types of people (bold, brilliant, resilient, beautiful minds) feel unchallenged or dragged, they tend to seek for ways to find challenge. Their minds depend on that fuel called challenge: making new paradigms.

And when they are sick, like savage hunters in need for food, if they don’t get it, they improvise. And if when they improvise, the answer is NO; or the way to act up on their ideas get blocked, those same hunters leave to other jungles, in where their potential is backed up.

So…why do we keep letting them fly away or flock from the island? Why don’t we enable them to grow to their optimal potential so they end up inventing new ways, new solutions…but here in Puerto Rico.

Besides the economic obstacles is there an intellectual one? Is there an incompatible world-view between the resilient, the visionaries, the risk-takers, the problem-solving creatures and the ones that are supposed to enable them to grow up to their potential? Highly probable. But, what can we do? How can we identify them, feed them with that challenge they crave, let them become bolder towards that rebirth…. a total transformation of a new island?

If those same resilient groups of people are tasked with transforming Puerto Rico again, we may have a chance. Those leaders are prone to inject others with enthusiasm, creativity and to help others raise the bar of what is optimal. They are excellent risk takers. And at some point, people will have to take a risk. Risk the commodity of depending on someone (government, agency) to live, to move and to survive.

Yes, risk. We need people assuming risks, not showing fear of the unknown, not being afraid of defeat. Our citizens need models to follow and to learn. We need them everywhere. In every small community, in every town, in every school. Their socio-economic status doesn’t matter. This is not about status it is about having a long-term vision.

Who are the enablers? The enablers are those who provide the means for this other kind to maximize their abilities. How? Enablers…they will need to become hunters too. They need to identify this human resource at schools, at colleges, at private corporations and industries. They will also need to work with risks factors. The fewer risk factors, the more probabilities of being resilient. They will need the empowerment, not the pessimism.

We need to make things work again
During the storm, I did many things. I meditated, prayed and read. Some friends and family members were concerned about me staying at my apartment, which is close to the beach. But somehow, I was sure that we were going to be OK. After 3 p.m., when the heavy winds passed, I thanked God for my kids and my own well-being, and for everything else…even the worst part.

Minutes later, I was cleaning and washing the windows. Yes, you read it. Label me with OCD, ADHD. I put everything back in order but improvised rearranging a few things. My daughter started to comment: “Mommy, why are you doing this if it’s still raining. We can do it tomorrow! My answer: “No mamita (sweetie), the sooner we work to get back to our feet, the better. Tomorrow we are going to work with the neighbors. We need to make things work again. We can’t wait for anyone else to do it”.

We don’t need to depend on others. We can figure out solutions by ourselves. But also, we need to transform ourselves into a network. Using emotional and cognitive intelligence at our best. Why did I thank God even for the worst part? Well, I figured that this catastrophe is an opportunity to start again. A blank slate upon which to rewrite our histories and that of our island. Either we pick up and start anew, or we will be creating the funeral of our future.

It’s like building a neurological net, and one neuron connects with the other, and collectively, they rule the mind and the body. And even if one network specializes in some function, they still work together. we need brilliant minds in the same way, we need enablers, nurturers and the contrast of it.

Having some contrast always brings the need to challenge them. And so, I hope that we as an island get through all this by changing our vision, by identifying our strengths and weaknesses, by enhancing our collective awareness, by starting a frenzy for infinite solutions to have that optimal collective mind.

After I organized everything at home, I went downstairs and saw all the damage done by Hurricane María. Neighbors were talking about how they handled the whole hurdle of the hurricane. I listened carefully and even told my own story…but then I asked: When are we cleaning up this mess? They all stared at me, but someone immediately backed me up. She said: “tomorrow morning…we are going to be there!”

The next day, I went for a run at 5:30 a.m. I was alone…at least the only crazy one running. As I ran, I felt sadness. A lot of devastation all around. At that point, I knew that for certain I was crazy. Being out there, in the dark with a lot of obstacles in my way. Trees, flooded areas, debris…a lot of damage! My eyes became wet. But I kept running… faster and faster. Passing all the obstacles in my way. Went home, kissed my kids and prepared to go down to the lobby.

My daughter and I brought two brooms, water and a need to move, to start again. As I started to drag branches and debris, notice that there was another person…not Puerto Rican. People passed by, just looking. For real! Not doing anything about this whole mess.

So…I kept cleaning up. Suddenly, at Puerto Rican time, a few of my neighbors came down to help. They got infected. Infected of being proactive, of becoming an actor, wanting protagonism. They got infected with the urge to clean and spruce up. They didn’t want to just watch or become an observer. By mid-day, all of the mess inside the building’s parking lot, the sidewalk and even in front of the street was clean. We made two huge piles of trees and debris on the side of the street, so the waste company could easily pick it up.

This new opportunity to transform our island also brings the need to work with ourselves…with our fears…to become better problem-solvers rather than pessimistic, to be an actor and at the same time be humble; learn to accept that our differences can become our strength in building a great network…a great island. What I am saying is that we need to become smart, wise…with our brain and our hearts. And yes…if you know what I’m saying, you know that it’s possible!

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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