Diana Ellis and Stride Magazine

Now, more than ever, we need to discover for ourselves what makes us resilient. What role can Global Citizenship Education play in supporting health and wellbeing through our current crisis? Diana Ellis from WOSDEC, a participant at our Transformative Learning Journey, presents the case for a better normal.

‘We don’t know how lucky we are’. This is a phrase we hear frequently when teachers are exploring global issues with us. It speaks of a deep recognition of privilege – of how profoundly unequal and unfair our world is. Many of us (especially in the global north) have no experience of living in conflict zones, refugee camps, without water or food security, or in areas devastated by extreme weather events.

Now, more than ever, we need to discover for ourselves what makes us resilient.

And then Covid-19 shows up. The world as we know it has turned upside down. My sense of privilege has taken on a new dimension. I feel so much gratitude for my garden in my ex council house and truly wouldn’t trade it for the fanciest penthouse flat in Glasgow. For some of us, isolation and lockdown are no more than an inconvenience. For others, it’s an extremely challenging time of managing children at home as well as working. At the sharper end there is loss of income, increased violence, and loss of loved ones. However, no matter where we are on the spectrum of experience, we are all more acutely aware of our interdependence, our basic need for human connection, and what it feels like to live with anxiety, fear and uncertainty. Now, more than ever, we need to discover for ourselves what makes us resilient.

What makes us resilient?

The science of resilience is fascinating. Resilience transcends the global lottery of where you are born, and into what conditions. Resilience is not predetermined, but adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can affect how we learn, what makes us feel safe, and can even change the biology of young brains, significantly reducing resilience. The good news is that resilience can be learned and developed all through our lives.

Resilience can be learned and developed all through our lives.

The teaching profession is catching on to the importance of creating a trauma-informed workforce. Thanks to leading developmental psychologists in the field, we now better understand how our bodies respond to stress and how this affects mental health. This awareness is a huge support during these uncertain times.

Tigers and teddy bears

Suzanne Zeedyk offers many strategies for reducing Corona Virus anxiety and fear . She believes the key is to first understand how anxiety operates in the body, and then find strategies that work for us. She uses child-friendly language as a metaphor for explaining how the two parts of our central nervous system works.

Suzanne describes the parasympathetic nervous system (a very primal response) as our sabre-tooth tiger. The tiger is there to protect us in emergencies, to warn our bodies that there is a threat, in order to keep us alive. It is completely normal and we need the cortisol from this tiger in order to fight, flee or freeze in the face of danger. We also have a more recently evolved ‘sympathetic nervous system’, which Suzanne calls the teddy bear. We create our own teddy bears to comfort and soothe us, to keep us calm and safe. Teddy bears produce the feel-good oxytocin, helping us self-regulate and letting our brain know that we’re not in danger right at this moment.

Building resilience

The current pandemic is an extremely valid anxiety - it is totally normal for our sabre-tooth tigers to be activated right now! But it is uncomfortable and can be scary. If we understand why we feel a bit panicked then we have a sense of agency - we can note it in our experience and this labelling immediately gives us a sense of distance and objectivity. This is the first step to looking after ourselves and helping others - building personal and community resilience. We are all now, adults and children alike, finding out for ourselves what our ‘teddy bears’ are.

Speak out and act for a post-Covid-19 world where all systems that sustain life are valued, protected and empowered.

Building a better normal

As educators and activists for Global Citizenship living in the global north, we have so much to learn from the personal wisdom and collective resilience developed by communities who have been affected by conflict, climate change, poverty and discrimination around the world. Once the immediate danger is passed, what we do to build a better ‘normal’ will depend on our mental health and our resilience. It is this which will take us through this indefinite lockdown and is the foundation for active global citizenship.

There is a tangible sense of potential within this new paradigm. This is the time for big ideas; universal basic income, free internet access for all and the circular economy. Post crises evolutionary leaps are possible, as we saw in the post-WW2 UN Declaration of Human Rights. The agency needed to find our teddy bear and calm our sabre tooth tiger is the same agency needed to find a voice, speak out and act for a post-covid19 world where all systems (organic and inorganic) that sustain life are valued, protected and empowered. Now is the time for a Global Citizenship manifesto for a better normal.

This article was originally published in Stride Magazine and published here with the permission of the author.

About the Author

Diana Ellis

Diana Ellis is a former teacher and a Global Education adviser at WOSDEC, Scotland. WOSDEC is one of five Development Education Centres that work closely together to ensure all educators across Scotland have access to high-quality Professional Learning opportunities and innovative learning and teaching practices. 

Stride Magazine

Stride aims to be a source of inspiration and support for teachers delivering education for Global Citizenship in Scotland. Their vision is of an education which develops the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes that learners need to participate in a globalised society and to secure a more just and sustainable world for all.