Why the Word for 2021 is Resilience by Bryan Robinson PhD


Towards the end of December, it has become a tradition for major wordsmiths to choose one word that sums up the shared experiences of the year. After Collins Dictionary unveiled its chosen word of the year: lockdown—“the imposition of stringent restrictions on travel, social interaction and access to public spaces”—I ran across a post by Thrive Global founder and CEO Arianna Huffington. The article titled, “And the Word of the Year Is . . . Resilience,” was a reaction to word picks by Collins Dictionary and other outlets such as Merriam-Webster and Oxford English Dictionary, who chose other predestined words such as pandemic, quarantine, doomscrolling, coronavirus.

In her post, Huffington disagreed with the word choices, insisting that resilience is what allows us not just to bounce back but bounce forward: “There is a single word that sums up 2020 and does encapsulate, in a deeper sense, the shared experience of billions of people this year,” Huffington said. “That word is resilience. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as ‘the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness. The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.’ It’s that quality that allows us to overcome challenges, obstacles, hardship and adversity, instead of being defeated by them. The reason resilience is my word of the year is because, unlike quarantine and coronavirus and social distancing, resilience is the only one that’s going to be just as relevant when the pandemic is over. Resilience is the quality that was summoned in us by all the challenges of 2020. And it’s also the quality that’s going to carry us forward into 2021.”

What’s The Big Deal About A Word?

Some people might ask, “What’s the big deal about a word?” But words carry tremendous power. They guide our thoughts and emotions and can bring us hope or despair, especially as billions of people across the globe try to make sense out of and move beyond deep pandemic grief and compromised mental health. The American Psychological Association’s Stress in America report found that nearly eight in 10 adults say the pandemic is a major source of stress, and 60% are overwhelmed by the issues currently facing America. Suspected overdoses went up 18% in March, 29% in April and 42% in May. According to a recent CDC report, 41% of Americans have struggled with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression or substance abuse related to the pandemic. These are depressing numbers, but it’s important to remember that, though our need for resilience is endless, so is our human capacity for it.

The American Workforce And Resilience

If there’s anything the American workforce needs for their mental health in 2021 it’s hope, optimism and faith in the potential for the future. As Huffington points out, “The power to build resilience is within us; just as we can learn other skills through practice, we can teach ourselves to be more resilient.” Some career people are born with pit-bull determination, less affected by stressful situations and more resilient to change. Others are more vulnerable to the arrows of everyday career pressures. But regardless of where you fall, it’s possible to cultivate resilience. All of us can set our mindsets for the New Year and learn to choose our perspectives and actions in the coming year like those before us.

“This has been a tragic year for so many—a year of so many losses and so much grief,” Huffington admits. “And yet, what the science and wisdom of resilience show us is that, as horrible as this year has been, the long-term impact on both our individual and our collective lives as a society is not predetermined or fixed. It’s a common refrain on social media to want to say goodbye to 2020. But our goal should be more than to just get through 2020, which will pass no matter what we do. The new year will inevitably come, but what kind of year will it be? What lessons will we carry with us to shape it into a year of hope and possibility? How will we have been transformed based on what we have experienced? That is up to us. And the more we summon and strengthen our resilience, the more we can bounce forward into a new and better year.”

Reprinted from Forbes, December, 2020

Arianna Huffington and Bryan Robinson will appear at Resiliency 2021 on September 9, 2021.