Minds Meet in the Spirit of Resiliency
The worst natural disaster in a nation's history is an epic test of the resiliency of its residents. When the nation is Burma, with chronic poverty and political instability, and the disaster is a cyclone that killed at least 138,000 people, the challenge is even stiffer.
Bringing positive care and support, including love and forgiveness, into play to increase resilience was the focus of a recent meeting of the minds between a team of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and School of Medicine faculty and a major Burmese humanitarian relief group.
Traveling the world as a young child not only exposed Dr. Judy Bass to unique cultures, but also great poverty, need, and strength in the indigenous peoples of various places. Bass, who leads a team from Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health, Department of Mental Health, has a focus on public mental and physical health in post-disaster and in low- and middle-income countries. The Johns Hopkins team included a general neuropsychiatrist, a pediatric neuropsychiatry expert, and mental health expert with research experience in resiliency.
Mingalar Myanmar (MM), a nonprofit organization dedicated to sustainable development was founded by a group of Burmese leaders from various fields. MM's work is guided by the Buddhist Mangala Sutra. This teaching is infused with love and forgiveness, as it stresses how to act in a generous, moral, and wise manner and to heed negative mental states--especially to avoid resentment and angry thoughts.
The core of the session was the exchange of views between the Johns Hopkins team led by Bass and MM leaders, including Yuza Htoo. The context was a search for ways to improve the long-term resiliency of Myanmar citizens affected by Cyclone Nargis. Nargis struck Burma in May 2008, and the effects of the catastrophe are still felt.
The sessions brought together 21 participants schooled in several perspectives--including healthcare, social support, and Buddhist teachings.
Through the workshop, the concepts of mental health and resilience were shared with participants with a particular focus on the role of love and forgiveness in the process of resilience building. Primary care doctors, for example, identified ways in which their attitudes toward patients could enhance love and forgiveness, by asking more generally about their needs rather than only focusing on the specific symptom that brought them to the clinic. Holistic approaches connecting mental and physical health also were emphasized.
This is a project of the Fetzer Advisory Council on the Natural Sciences.