“There is no force on earth more powerful than the will to live” 127 Hours
There are few experiences any of us will ever have to go through unless we are in combat or unfortunate enough to be caught up in a cataclysmic event where we will ever be pushed beyond our comfort zones or be compelled to choose between giving up on life or struggling to live.
I luckily don’t think I have had to live though such an experience. However two stories in the climbing or adventure world stand out as glimpses into the souls of men who have gone beyond the norm and have lived to tell and sell there tales to a huge global audience. Touching the Void which tells the tale of Joe Simpson’s epic story of determined survival in the Peruvian Andes and the current 127 Hours which relates Aron Ralston’s enforced self amputation of his arm after becoming stuck under a boulder in the Canyonlands can be viewed in two ways; as vicarious entertainment or as a self probing tool. In the latter case, all those who engage in difficult endeavours will undoubtedly be asking questions of themselves: would I? could I?
Interestingly prior to their grand epics, both Joe Simpson and Aron Ralston had faced a series of “accidents” and incidents of lesser proportion in climbing lives which almost provided them with the skills they needed to employ in order to survive their ultimate tests when they came.
It seems to come down to this; if under stress your tendency is to become rigid or fixed upon one solution, this decreases your chances of survival. If, however, under extreme stress you can access information and are sufficiently flexible to seek alternative solutions obviously you will have a greater chance of living. Survivors know how to improvise: they try multiple strategies. If one action fails, they try another. They are optimistic and unflappable, can tolerate bizarre circumstances and do not freak out.
Whilst in normal circumstances self belief or ego are perceived to be unattractive traits to possess, in extreme situations may very well be those which become your saving grace. Fortunately these skills can be gained and/or trained for. Flexibility not pigheadedness, action over passivity; you can learn these by putting yourself in many varied and challenging circumstances and by playing outside in any weather, not just on the easy sunny days. Linear thinking also does not help and it helps to be an abstract thinker. According to some US military research into combat survival rates people who have had soft lives will also give up first and women, in certain circumstances will be better survivors. So if you’re a single mother of 5 living off your wits in a tent full of holes you’re quids in. If however like me, you’re not, we may not last so long. It’s an amusing concept whilst sitting in the kitchen on a Sunday morning, but in a white out at minus 25 degrees C it rapidly becomes more of a pertinent question.