Monday, September 24, 2007

Deep Survival

I picked up the book Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies and Why on a whim a few weeks ago at my local Borders. Intrigued by the wilderness survival topic, it sounded like an interesting read. To put it mildly, this book is intense. Below are a few excerpts.

:: Speaking about mental maps - like when a person gets lost and having to reassess where they are. [Stretch to expand this idea to cultural engagement. The ones that thrive in other cultures are the ones that adapt the best and quickest, in essence reshaping their mental models.]
Al Siebert, a psychologist, writes in The Survivor Personality that the survivor "does not impose pre-existing patterns on new information, but rather allows new information to reshape [his mental models]. The person who has the best chance of handling a situation well is usually the one with the best ... mental pictures or images of what is occurring outside of the body."

:: He writes a lot about keeping your cool and how there is a fine balance between emotion and cognition - the ones who survive are the ones who have kept their emotions in check while making the right decisions and acting on them. A bit about the physiology in the brain:
Since the organism's survival depends on a reasonable match between mental map and environment, as the two diverge, the hippocampus spins its wheels and the amygdala sends out alarm signals even as the motivations circuits urge you on and on. The result is vertigo, claustrophobia, panic and wasted motion. Since most people aren't conscious of the process, there's no way to reflect on what's happening.

:: The idea that serving others transforms you into a survivor:
Kerns learned many lessons that night. His mastery and confidence turned the pilots around even more than the fire. It showed them the way, and it made Kerns more able to save himself. That lesson was driven home and home again: Helping someone else is the best way to ensure your own survival. It takes you out of yourself. It helps you rise above your fears. Now you're a rescuer, not a victim. And seeing how your leadership and skill buoy others up gives you more focus and energy to persevere. The cycle reinforces itself: You buoy them up, and their response buoys you up. Many people who survive alone report that they were doing it for someone else back home.

Two other ideas surfaced for me while reading this book. First, although our SPACE teams aren't necessarily in wilderness survival environments, there could be incidents where our leaders are in crisis mode and trying to balance emotion versus cognition in order to make the right decision. Realistic scenarios include being in a foreign city and losing a student, a team member getting into a major car accident, or being the target of a violent crime. Perhaps this book has allowed my mind to wander, thinking that any of those are remotely possible [they are, aren't they?] The ability to hold emotion in check while cognitively making the right decisions is a leadership behavior that is important. Perhaps we need to visit this topic as a part of our team preparation. [Along the same lines but the topic of another post - staffing your leadership for worst case.]

The second thought that came to mind was the difference between surviving as a victim versus surviving as a rescuer. The bigger paradigm relates to all of us that follow Christ - instead of merely just surviving, are we rescuing? Because it sounds like that makes a big difference.

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