Behold Greeks bearing up better

After a decade of economic hardship, Greece used its newfound resiliency to tackle the coronavirus well. It is now a lesson in the nature of resiliency itself.

People enjoy the beach of Kavouri suburb near Athens May 10. Greece has begun gradually lifting its restrictive measures after a lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

During the world’s last full-blown crisis – the financial meltdown of a decade ago – Greece was an example of a country not to follow. Its economy had been so mismanaged it needed three international bailouts. Only last year, after experiencing extreme austerity and reform, did it begin to see success; the Greek stock market, for example, performed the best in the world.

Even more, in March as the coronavirus pandemic began to strike, its people were well prepared to spring into action. Early on, Greece shuttered much of its society and citizens diligently followed government officials in honoring the rules of a lockdown. The resiliency that Greeks had built up was put to good use. The country has one of Europe’s lowest death rates per capita from COVID-19, a result of new social discipline and better faith in institutions. “We have matured,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told Kathimerini newspaper.

As Greece carefully now opens its economy, it will need to draw on its renewed civic trust and its ability to adapt and learn. The country is highly dependent on foreign tourism, an industry that may be among the slowest to recover. It must again deal with high unemployment.

Still, because of their success against the coronavirus, Greeks now display a unity and confidence that will help them tackle the new challenge. Much of Europe is watching Greece, not as a black sheep but as a strong example.

Resiliency is more than bouncing back to the status quo after a disaster. It is the ability to adopt new ideas and practices that strengthen a person or a community. Former World Trade Organization Director-General Pascal Lamy says resiliency is a reflection of society’s religious and cultural attributes, or what he calls “mental representations.” These traits are the hidden shock absorbers during a crisis. Merely being efficient in either business or government is not enough, he says.

Communities that thrive after a disaster have already built up strong social ties. Strangers are ready to help strangers. Trials are not seen as a matter of chance but as opportunities to grow. Individuals often expand their thinking about their purpose. Like Greece, societies that gain in maturity are able to take on each new crisis.

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