Jenifer White

An abstract wooden sculpture of a human figure deep in thought
Source: Davide Restivo | CC BY-SA 2.0

I remember in 2019, while studying history, what stood out for me was people’s struggles during the plagues, and I thought what crazy days they lived in. In fact, back then, they didn’t have the same knowledge and technology that we have today, yet they overcame their trials. I thought: well, it was probably somewhat remarkable to have lived in historical moments and been part of great changes in laws, politics, and human behavior. But to be honest, I regret having thought it was amazing. Not so long after that thought, I saw a meme of someone saying that they wished to live during a historic moment on my Facebook feed. Invocation, witchcraft, karma? In March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, initiating the long two years of a historical moment for the twenty-first century. The plague was here. Covid-19 is a fast-spreading disease that has killed millions of people, putting many people in the hospital, suffering for days, even months, fighting to survive. Let us not forget to mention the family members who had to see their loved ones suffer and often lose them. The last two years have been a perfect scenario to exercise resilience, especially for those born after the wars. Most of those who lived through the wars have built a lot of resilience and experience, and the younger generation is still learning. But what is resilience? According to the Oxford Dictionary, resilience is “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” This short essay explores the idea of learning to be resilient while acknowledging when we are simply being masochists.

Life is about trying, learning, losing, and winning. From a young age, we start to understand that nothing comes in hand. A baby has to put effort into learning and acquiring motor skills. At first, there is the excitement of the baby learning how to crawl and then walk. With walking come many falls. Yet those falls didn’t stop the baby from being resilient and focused on his goal. He had a purpose behind that resilience.

But what we have faced is much bigger than baby crawls and walks. With the pandemic, everyone’s world was turned upside down. The unknown triggered many anxiety attacks, panic attacks, bouts of depression, etc. Mental health issues evidently would become a huge issue worldwide. With differences of opinions as to what kind of action governments or individuals should take, people created a bubble world, and anxiety went through the roof.

In Maxine Hairston’s article “Carl Rogers’ Alternative to Traditional Rhetoric,” she defends Rogers’ idea of being empathetic to others, listening, and trying to view the issue from your opponent’s perspective. It seems like an easy task, but Hairston is straightforward when she says: “Often we need very much to discuss serious problems with our family, friends, or colleagues but feel that any effort to communicate is doomed because both sides are too emotional and sensitive for calm discussion” (373).

Everyone was exhausted from following the new rules and trying to be resilient during a pandemic that was getting worse with every passing day. We had to deal with learning to be patient and stand strong for ourselves and others, but it was also the perfect storm for a political war. It felt as if everyone must choose a side—centrism was not allowed—or you would be called a coward for not standing up for a point of view. Social media platforms owned by monopolists no longer served as places for free speech. Instead, they were utilized to promote what they thought was right. In Chen et al.’s article “We Should Not Get rid of Incivility Online,” the authors express the danger of silencing one individual because we disagree with their rhetoric. They say, “When platforms and academics take it upon themselves to decide what is uncivil, they are imposing a particular definition of what counts and what doesn’t. And inevitably, these definitions may force a particular worldview” (3). Many people lost their voices in this turmoil of authoritarianism and abuse of power.

In the midst of this situation, schools and colleges had to adapt to the new Covid mandates imposed by the government in order to survive in the new reality we were living. The schools could not just shut down and make all students lose the school year. Adjustment and resilience were keywords in the process.

In Edwards and Poe’s article “Writing and Responding to Trauma in a Time of Pandemic,” the authors describe the moment that the in-person classes ended and how everyone was desperate. Many questions arose about what the future held:

Within days, as students struggled to find safe ways to get home or secure alternative housing, the class-wide discussions they had already started to have about the novel coronavirus and public health information from an interested distance became all too real. As hard-hit Boston-area hospitals braced for the possibility of surge capacity in early spring, some of these undergraduates who were on cooperative hospital rotations or working per diem while taking the class online found themselves on floors that had been turned into COVID-19 units. How could she even begin to talk about writing assignments or deadlines, knowing this? (66)

Note that the authors use the word struggled, which is what this essay is bringing to the attention: the many struggles we have in life, especially during the pandemic. There was no time to waste—there was the shift from in-person classes to online, students and professors adjusting to the online study platforms, technical issues, and one crucial thing, the internet to access the courses. Not everyone had access to reliable internet. Thankfully, some companies and organizations provided free internet hotspots to supply those in need of Wi-Fi and also offered affordable internet.

We saw the world changing before our eyes. Despite abrupt changes in our lifestyle, Edwards and Poe were impressed with the willingness of people to try the new online projects and events. They said, “We were buoyed by the response when our writing center’s annual Writers’ Week—a public outreach event with the neighboring community of Roxbury—was transitioned to a three-week online event in late April and early May 2020. Hundreds of people signed up for writers’ workshops and for help with résumé writing” (67). I believe that the schools’ and companies’ resilience and the flexibility on their part inspired the students and workers to keep moving forward instead of abandoning the school year, work, etc.

There was a hope that everything would be fine. Our goal was to make our new reality of self-isolation, the bubble world, a process of building resilience to bring our lives back to normal.

One important aspect of Edwards and Poe’s article is their awareness of the necessity to promote writing to allow the students to talk about their pandemic experiences:

Writing about physical and mental adversity and trauma can be a powerful tool for healing, as demonstrated as early as the late 1980s. Recent research by John Evans and colleagues at Duke University suggests that expressive writing increases resilience and decreases perceived stress, depression, and rumination in study participants who experienced trauma. (68).

A little over two years into the pandemic, many of the mandates have been rescinded. A lot of people contracted Covid once, others more than once. The majority of students were able to finish their school year and enter the 2021–2022 school year in person. At the beginning of the 2021–2022 school year, we still had the mask mandate in place. However, it was a victory being able to have in-person classes.

The world was shifting to reopen its borders and give more flexibility on the rules. That was what almost everyone was hoping for, a return to a normal life. But I ask myself, through these two years into the pandemic, every day surviving the pandemic, was it an act of resilience? Was the refusal to search for help or express our feelings to avoid judgment an actual act of resilience, or were we merely being masochists?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, masochism is “(in general use) the enjoyment of what appears to be painful or tiresome.” I do not believe that when someone is in the process of a big trial, they are consciously enjoying the pain and suffering they are going through. Some people think they’re being resilient and decide not to look for help because they think they must stand strong and be an example for others by keeping a smile and repeating that all will be well. And that is a dangerous act that could lead to depression.

I ask myself how many young kids there are who internally are struggling and don’t look for help because they want to appear strong for their friends and family. How many workers are feeling overworked, yet they refuse to look for help or speak up? How many mothers still carry the weight of homeschooling their children because they don’t feel safe sending their kids to school?

Resist, stay strong! The motto became commonplace without consideration of the consequences. On May 3, on my way to pick up my kids at the bus stop, I received an email from their school. The email disclosed that a young girl, a ninth grader who had just had prom and had led a very accomplished life, had gone to a park not so far from our house and taken her own life. A beautiful young girl who lived the historical moment of the pandemic, who made it through two pandemic school years, always smiling in photos like everything was okay, ended her life—a shock to the community and her parents. We cannot judge her or the reasons for her decision. Her family shared her suicide case to help others going through a difficult time and bring awareness that it is okay to look for help if you are struggling. You don’t have to be resilient all the time, and it is okay to let go of things that are actually hurting you. Carl Rogers explains in “Communication: Its Blocking and Its Facilitation” that we are the ones shutting down the communication many times. He says:

What relationship is there between providing therapeutic help to individuals with emotional maladjustments and the concern of this conference with obstacles to communication? Actually the relationship is very close indeed. The whole task of psychotherapy is the task of dealing with a failure in communication. The emotionally maladjusted person, the “neurotic,” is in difficulty first because communication within himself has broken down, and second because as a result of this his communication with others has been damaged. (83).

To conclude, no matter what we face, it is important to question ourselves, question things, and look for help. Resilience has become even more challenging because of the pandemic situation that has altered not only social life but also political and economic affairs. When many thought that they had overcome this historical moment, perhaps many did not imagine the pandemic’s consequences, especially at the global scale. Therefore, we must relearn what resilience is and how to deal with our new society of indirect persuasion and misguided mottos about being strong. We must promote more groups where people can express their thoughts without being automatically judged or called uncivil.


  • Edwards, Laurie and Mya Poe. “Writing and Responding to Trauma in a Time of Pandemic.” Prompt Journal, vol. 5, no. 2, pp. 66–99, 2022.
  • Rogers, Carl S. “Communication: Its Blocking and Its Facilitation.” ETC: A Review of General Semantics, vol. 9, no. 2, 1952, pp. 83–88.


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Open Rhetoric Copyright © by Jenifer White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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