Skip to content

Harnessing the resilience of the American spirit

From braving the Atlantic Ocean to exploring America’s unknown fron­tier, the country’s first set­tlers met risks head on with a sense of strength and resilience, said polit­ical sci­ence pro­fessor Stephen Flynn, codi­rector of Northeastern’s George J. Kostas Research Insti­tute for Home­land Secu­rity.

“Over­coming adver­sity is a cen­tral nar­ra­tive of the Amer­ican story,” Flynn told more than 80 stu­dents, fac­ulty and staff in a lec­ture in West Vil­lage H last Thursday. “It has fueled our sense of opti­mism and the sense that we have the power to shape our future for the better.”

Unfor­tu­nately, Flynn said Amer­i­cans today try to elim­i­nate risk and assign blame once a cat­a­strophe man­i­fests itself, rather than learn to manage, cope with and adapt to the sit­u­a­tion. Nat­ural dis­as­ters or the failure of com­plex man­made sys­tems, such as telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions net­works, are facts of life, he said.

He expressed hope that America has the capacity to return to its more resilient roots. During his lec­ture, Flynn showed a video that recently pre­miered at a summit he orga­nized in Wash­ington to com­mem­o­rate the 10th anniver­sary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Nar­rated by actor Tom Hanks, “Boatlift” doc­u­ments the spon­ta­neous effort of hun­dreds of boaters to surge into New York Harbor and evac­uate nearly 500,000 people trapped in lower Man­hattan after the attacks.

Emu­lating the resilience depicted in “Boatlift” can both honor those who per­ished on Sept. 11, 2001 and serve as a blue­print to over­coming adver­sity in the future, Flynn said.

“We could have a com­pet­i­tive advan­tage over every other country in the world by har­nessing that capacity,” he declared. “People will live and invest not in places that are risk free — because there aren’t any — but in places that cope with it well. That’s what we need to do.”

Flynn said the Kostas Research Insti­tute, which opened in Sep­tember at Northeastern’s campus in Burlington, Mass., will help Amer­i­cans cope better with risk by addressing crit­ical home­land secu­rity chal­lenges through use-​​inspired research.

Resilience, he noted, is a highly inter­dis­ci­pli­nary field; it relates to every­thing from how build­ings are engi­neered to mit­i­gate earth­quake damage to how busi­nesses are con­fig­ured to with­stand finan­cial ruin.

He said resilient sys­tems are less likely to be ter­rorist tar­gets because of the dimin­ished impact. “As a country], we haven’t had a place yet that has brought all this idea sharing together across many dis­ci­plines,” Flynn said. “North­eastern is the per­fect place for that to happen.”

– by Greg St. Martin

More Stories

Photo of the Capitol Building at night

High stakes for politics, SCOTUS in 2018

Photo of the crashed truck that was used in the October 31st attack in Manhattan.

Weaponizing Language: How the meaning of “allahu akbar” has been distorted

Northeastern logo

Why I love studying Spanish