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Why resilience is the key to solving 21st century problems

Author and PopTech executive director Andrew Zolli says the ability of people and institutions to bounce back from challenges will be needed more and more. It can be learned, as he found out in his own life.

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These mental attitudes are associated with religious beliefs. "People who have a spiritual or religious worldview are, on average, more resilient than people who aren't," he says. That's not the same as saying a particular religious belief – or any religious beliefs – are true. But "whether religion is true or not, it's actually good for you," he says.

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Gregory M. Lamb is a senior editor and writer.

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The kind of "mindfulness" meditation associated with Buddhist monks has also proved useful in reducing stress. It can be used with combat veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Today US troops are more likely to kill themselves after returning home than to have been killed by the enemy, Zolli says. "That's a byproduct of the fact that war has become less fatal but no less stressful." In teaching some form of "mindfulness" meditation to veterans "we're talking about not only saving dollars but saving lives."

Zolli's book is laced with examples of resilient institutions. None is any more remarkable than that of Hancock Bank. Hurricane Katrina damaged or destroyed 90 of the 103 branches of the Gulfport, Miss., based regional bank. Many of its customers had lost everything they had, including their IDs and checkbooks. The bank, recognizing that its prime responsibility was to serve its community (not to make a profit), authorized branches to begin giving out $200 to anyone who would sign their name (not just its customers), no ID required. In this way some $42 million was put in the hands of local residents (and pumped into the local economy) to help begin the recovery.

The move paid off for the bank. More than 99 percent of the money was paid back voluntarily. And the goodwill that was created helped deposits at the bank rise by $1.5 billion over the next three years.

"The world needs a lot more examples like this," Zolli says. "How do we establish rules that create more Hancocks over time?"

America celebrates businesses such as Google and Facebook who grow at fantastic speed, but forgets that a crash is often awaiting them somewhere down the line. "We forget that everything that goes up must come down," he says. "And the coming down is usually uglier."

Hancock represents a different model. "This kind of slower growth, deeply connected to community, this is the kind of stuff of which real resilience is made," he says.

PopTech now is taking on the question of how to build resiliency in the world, Zolli says. The world's problems, from economic disruptions to changing climate patterns, will demand resilience. "It's ultimately in our collective self-interest that we bolster the resilience of all of us."

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