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Book: Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales


Finally finished reading this one. Good book! The copy I have borrowed is covered with sticky tabs left there by the last reader. It has been interesting to peruse what he thought was worth marking. I mark my books up with pencil brackets, dashes and dots, and create my own indices handwritten inside the covers.....but that's me. This book convinced me that I am a survivor, that I have all the classic characteristics and tendencies of those who manage to pull through when others might kill themselves through haste or ignorance. So it made me feel good. =-]

p295 (last page) and this bit after a discussion of how one woman died of flying a stunt airplane while another with a similar lifestyle minutes the flying died of cancer:
No, some people would rather not see it, but the bull is there for all of us. Some of us choose to pass the cape in front of its horns. To live life is to risk it. And when you feel the rush of air and catch the stink of hot breath in your face, you enter the secret order of those who have seen their own death close up. It makes us live that much more intensely. So intesnse is it for some that it seals their fate; once they've tasted it, they just can't stop. And in their cases, perhaps we have to accept that the light that burns brightest burns half as long.

This statement reminds me of something that I like to say. It is my adaptation of someone else's joke....absorbed and improved to say what I mean.

Here it is: the definition of FUN.
==>You're not having fun until you're cold, wet, tired, lost, hungry, bleeding, and at least 50 miles from home.

I think it gets to the meat of the matter, that we seek out challenges because they remind us of what it feels like to be fully alive. ALIVE. Anyway.

One interesting point that Gonzales made is that survivors are not rule followers. He made the point of how many people probably died in the 9/11 catastrophe because they did as they were told. If they had been streaming methodically down the steps, knowing full well that the building was fubar, many MANY more would have survived. But instead they were told to stay put, sit tight, everything was fine. A few people who had an independent sense of the situation and took action to get themselves out were successful. The rest of the herd died. Nevermind doing what the people in cop uniforms tell you to do; decide for yourself.

Another quote from the book, p209-210:

To survive, you must at some point allow cool to become cold. Stockdale wrote, "In difficult situations, the leader with the heart, not the soft heart, not the bleeding heart, but the Old Testament heart, the hard heart, comes into his own." Survival means accepting reality, and accepting reality takes a hard heart. But it is a strange kind of coldness, for it has empathy at its center.

Gonzales writes over and over again about how survivors don't waste time and energy on what can't be helped. If someone's dead, they're dead. You go ahead and do what you need to do. If you want to die too, you can. Or you can split off the emotions and let your serious rational realistic voice speak, and act for your own survival. It is a choice.

Another quote, p293:
The outcome of a survival situation depends largely on your mental, emotional and physical condition and activities. Everyone who meets catastrophe or challenge and survives it through his or her own actions goes through an initial transformation from victim to survivor, and also follows a well-defined pattern of mental and emotional checks, controls, actions and transformations. Those activities, such as the split of the rational from the emotional self and the sudden, almost blinding insight that one is going to live, are far more important in predicting survival than any particular skill, training, or equipment. Those mental processes and transformations reflect actual brain activity that scientists are just beginning to understand. People who engage in wilderness recreation or risky outdoor sports can benefit from learning about such processes and transformations. Everyone has finite resources going into a catastrophe. It is in managing those resources and taking advantage of every bit of luck that comes along that survivors have been able to bring out their stories. There is no telling how many people behave and adapt as perfect, textbook sruvivors, only to die owing to extreme objective hazards that even the best behavior cannot overcome. In other words, you may do everything right and still die. Likewise, you may do everything wrong and live, as so many do every day.

p117 on "risk homeostasis"
The theory says that people accept a given level of risk. While it's different for each person, you tend to keep the risk you're willing to take at about the same level. If you perceive conditions as less risky, you'll take more risk. If conditions seem more risky, you'll take less risk. The theory has been demonstrated again and again. When antilock brakes were introduced, authorities expected the ccident rate to go down, but it went up. People perceieved that driving was safer with antilock brakes, so they drove more aggressively. With the introduction of radar in commercial shipping, it was expecte dthat ships would colide less frequently. The opposite proved o be true. Radar simply allowed the owners to require the captains to drive the ships harder. Technological advances intended to improve safety may have the opposite effect.

I have personally observed this pattern working in myself and others. More people portage on a rainy day when lightning is flashing.

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