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  • Kelly Finlaw

Resiliency Semantics

Kelly discusses the importance of finding a common language.

BuildaBridge is rooted in a few fundamental principles.


Safe space


And resiliency

When I was in Kenya in 2014 I trained the teachers at the orphanage in these principles. We spent one day on each principle and then we led an art camp for the kids at the orphanage.

The day that I taught ritual taught me so, so much about the words we choose to you and the power that they have.

I anticipated issues that may come up with some of these foundational concepts, but I didn’t anticipate an issue with ritual.

In my western head, ritual was going to be the easiest to teach. It was Kenya. They already knew about ritual.

I started by asking, “What rituals do you practice in your culture?”

I was expecting to fill the chalkboard with their responses, but the room was awkwardly silent.

The uncomfortable looks on their faces prompted me to dig more deeply.

As the conversation unfolded it became very evident that we didn’t have the same connotation for the word “ritual.”

I wanted to know what their rights of passage were, what traditions they held in high regard, and what daily/monthly/yearly “rituals” they practiced as a culture.

In the tension of the silence, I offered an example from my own life. “Every year I celebrate the day that I was hired at my current school. I take a day to remember how one phone call changed my life forever. I take a day to be still, to reflect, and then I get a celebratory massage. It’s my ritual every year.”

I could see the tension in the room dissipate.

“That’s not a ritual. That’s a routine. A ritual is something that people in tribal cultures do and we don’t want anything to do with that. Ritual sacrifices still happen and we aren’t any part of those practices.”

It was all semantics.

The word “ritual” has no stigma for me, no negative association. I haven’t spent my life separating myself from ancient traditions that are loosely connected to me and cause embarrassment.

Clearly, my students had a far different background with this specific topic.

Immediately, I erased the word from the board.

I replaced it with “routine” and asked the same question.

The rest of the lesson played out as I originally intended.

We just had to find a common language.

Fast forward to today, where I’m receiving an education on Irish history, Northern Ireland, Catholics, Protestants, The UK, and the current political climate in the country.

Darren, the Beyond Skin founder, was taking me on a whirlwind tour of Belfast and inundating me with information. He pulled off of the road to show me a building that he knew would be of particular interest to me.

The building was covered in a massive sign that read, “Stop calling me resilient. Because every time you say, ‘Oh, they’re resilient.’ that means you can do something else to me. I am not resilient.”

I couldn’t help but think of my time in Kenya and the connotation of “ritual.”

It’s intention vs. impact.

Resiliency is one of my favorite words.

I’m going to stand up every time that I fall.

I’m going to grow in the most heartbreaking of circumstances.

I will never stop fighting for equality, justice, and for the people that I love.

I won’t be beaten.

Being resilient is beautiful. It is a part of how I see myself.

And yet, in this ever so complex country that is divided by history, walls, religion, and imaginary lines, one of my favorite words doesn’t carry hope.

It offends.

It reminds the people that raised that sign that they have endured a lifetime of wrongs at the hands of people that believed that they could take it, and in taking it, would be able to take a lifetime more.

That’s not what it means to me.

I’ll always see myself as resilient and I’ll always cling to that word in my daily life.

I will also always value ritual, but I won’t use that term if I go back to Kenya.

Dr. Corbitt always says, “If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.”


I know where I am. I know who I am. Always.

As I sit here in Ireland, technically in the UK, I realize the impact of my words. I realize that I can teach resiliency with art without ever using the word.

I realize that this country is complex and storied in ways that I will never fully comprehend. One day of history class has left my head spinning.

If resiliency is offensive to you, you’ll never hear me say it.

You will, however, watch resiliency in action when see my life. And you’ll learn that you are able to rise above your circumstances and grow, even in the most desperate of times, through an art lesson or two.

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