During her commencement speech at Virginia Tech on Friday, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg talked to the university’s class of 2017 about something that many in the college’s community know all too well: collective resilience.
As Virginia Tech has done by grieving and overcoming together one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent US history, Sandberg says that others who experience loss can persevere by building resilience as a community.
“That’s called ‘collective resilience,’ and it’s an incredibly powerful force — one that our country and world need so badly right now,” Sandberg says. “It’s in our relationships with each other that we find our will to live, our capacity to love, and the power to make lasting change in the world.”
Sandberg, who lost her husband, Dave Goldberg, suddenly two years ago and who has since co-written a book, “Option B,” about her experience, says building collective resilience — or “building your own posse,” as she puts it — doesn’t just happen. These communities are formed by people coming together in very specific ways.
“We all need our posses — especially when life puts obstacles in our path,” she says. To build this posse requires give and take.
On the part of the person who’s experiencing loss, you have to ask for help, which isn’t easy, Sandberg acknowledges. She tells the graduates:
“Before Dave died, I tried to bother people as little as possible — and ‘bothering people’ is how I thought of it. Then I lost Dave, and suddenly I needed my family and friends more than ever. My mom — who along with my dad is here with me today — stayed with me for the first month, literally holding me until I cried myself to sleep each night. I had never felt weaker. But I learned that it takes strength to rely on others. There are times to lean in and there are times to lean on.”
On the other side, if someone in your posse is experiencing loss, you need to be there for them, often, and vocally, Sandberg says. She explains:
“Before I lost Dave, if a friend was facing something hard, I would say how sorry I was — once. Then I usually wouldn’t bring it up again because I didn’t want to remind them of their pain. Losing Dave taught me how absurd that was — you can’t ‘remind me’ I lost Dave. But like I had done with others, people often avoided the topic with me. It was like a giant elephant was following me around everywhere I went.”
If you are in someone’s posse, Sandberg warns against offering help in a generic way. Instead of asking, “Is there anything I can do?” which shifts the burden to the person in need, simply show up.
“When my friend Dan Levy’s son was sick in the hospital, a friend texted him, ‘What DON’T you want on a burger?’ Another friend said she was downstairs in the hospital lobby for the next hour for a hug whether he came downstairs or not,” Sandberg recalls.
“You don’t have to do something huge. You don’t have to wait until someone tells you exactly what they need. And you don’t have to be someone’s best friend from the first grade to show up. If you are there for your friends, and let them be there for you — if you laugh together until your sides ache, hold each other while you cry, and maybe even bring them a burger before they ask — that won’t just make you more resilient. It will also help you live a deeper and more meaningful life.”
Collective resilience can also be born of collective hope, Sandberg says.
“We normally think of hope as something individual people hold in their heads and in their hearts. But hope — like resilience — is something we grow and nurture together,” she says.
During some of the world’s most trying times recently, like after the shooting at Mother Emanuel church in Charleston, South Carolina, or the 2015 Paris terrorist attack, Sandberg says she saw communities come together to stand against hate and violence in powerful ways.
“Strength like that makes those who see it stronger. Hope like that makes all of us more hopeful. That’s how collective resilience works — we lift each other up,” Sandberg says.
Watch the full speech here: