Have you ever seen the movie “Alive”? It’s one of the greatest survival movies of all time. It’s the story of an Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashed into the Andes Mountains. Exposed to frigid arctic conditions with few resources, the survivors were forced to make incredibly difficult decisions to stay alive. These decisions included cannibalizing their dead friends. They were able to do what was necessary.
In his book “Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” Aron Ralston details his almost unbelievable survival experience of being pinned in a Utah canyon by a large fallen boulder. Ultimately he had to choose between dying and cutting off his own arm with a dull camp knife. He lived to write the book that also inspired the hit movie “127 Hours.” He too found the will to do what was necessary.
Doing what is necessary is often an unspoken rule of survival. Survival is mental first and physical second. Almost every account of survival I’ve ever heard or read includes doing something that, outside of the desperate confines of trying to stay alive, seems incomprehensible.
Real survivors of very true events have done the unthinkable. They have eaten the most repulsive things on earth, swum through crocodile-infested waters to avoid capture, walked through miles of snow with frostbitten appendages, taken shelter inside of dead animal carcasses to escape hypothermia and lived for years as castaways on forgotten islands.
British explorer Sir Wilfred Thesiger wrote an amazing account of his travels through a section of desert in Arabia called the Empty Quarter. In his book “Arabian Sands,” he noted, “If an Arab was really thirsty, he would even kill a camel and drink the liquid in its stomach, or ram a stick down its throat and drink the vomit.”
Survivors do what is necessary.
Doing what is necessary starts with a decision and ends with an action. Mind over matter is a critical survival skill and often underestimated. Phobias are a prime example of the mind losing the ability to control the body’s response to a situation. It is often said that survival is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical.
I read a story when I was a little boy that I will never forget. It was about an Eskimo boy who took his dogs deep onto the Alaskan ice to hunt for seal. He ended up getting lost and ultimately had to kill his dogs one at a time to feed himself and the remaining dogs until it was just him left. The ability to do what was necessary (mentally first and physically second) made it possible for him to survive for months while lost in the Alaskan arctic.
For most of us (at least in America), meeting our basic human survival needs requires surprisingly little effort. Adequate shelter is readily accessible. We turn on the faucet and clean drinking water magically gushes out. Food is easy and inexpensive to find. Threat of death or torture is virtually nonexistent. Medical supplies and services are around every corner.
We are rarely, if ever, really tested. Most of us can live a fairly descent existence without ever really fighting, struggling or working too hard for anything at all. Because of this, I fear we are becoming a people foreign to the concept of “doing what is necessary.” Feelings of complacency, laziness and entitlement are eagerly waiting to take its place. It’s easy to take life for granted when you’re not working for it.
It’s important, therefore, even in good times to practice “doing what is necessary,” as an individual and as a country. This is done by working hard, pursuing dreams, refusing complacency and resisting entitlement. Not only will your life be better for it, but you’ll also be flexing a mental skill that you just might need in tip-top shape to save your life one day.