The Will to Survive

I was asked a question by a follower of this blog and it made me wonder, “What would happen if mob mentality took over? Would we plunder stores? Start ransacking empty houses while the inhabitants fled perhaps to a safer location?” While I can’t answer for everybody, it is an interesting thought, isn’t it? “What would happen if we were all put in a position where we had to fight to survive?” This thought, in turn, made me ask myself, “Are we selfish creatures?” And while there are people who will say ‘no’ and others who would agree, it is a very good question to ask ourselves. Who am I? Am I selfish? Am I selfless? Where do we stand on this existential question?

In H.G. Wells book, “War of the Worlds”, Wells puts his Narrator in a position where he is forced to share an abandoned house with a selfish drunkard. While the Narator is trying to ration out their resources between the two of them, he struggles with his greedy and selfish companion to ration out what they find in the pantry and wine cellar. Still, one morning he wakes up to find that, not only has his foolish and selfish companion almost emptied what was left of the pantry, he has also almost depleted their supply in the wine cellar in his gluttony. Here, for the first time in his life, the Narrator is faced with a difficult decision: does he kill his companion or leave in search of other provisions and, perhaps, a safer place to hide? I won\’t tell you the answer to that question, if you wish to find out, read the book. It is the most amazing look at what a person will do to survive.

Another example of this is “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding. In Lord of the Flies we observe a group of young boys that quickly strive to develop a semblance of order after finding themselves stranded on an island, but instead of working together to establish a community, all that happens is we watch them rapidly disintegrate into absolute chaos and brutality. They end up with a power struggle amongst themselves and begin to fight over resources. Golding, like Wells, had a very firm grasp on humanity’s will to survive and the lengths we’ll go to in order to survive. In the book he takes a further look into mankind’s base nature.

Two examples that come from both movies, as well as the books they\’re based on, are the Maze Runner trilogy and the Hunger Games trilogy. In both trilogies we witness what happens when people are pitted against one another and forced to do what they must to survive. The Maze Runner puts their characters in scenarios where they are forced to participate in a set of various experiments where their will to survive is tested. In this book we see only a few of these characters survive in the end as not all of them were able to survive despite their companions doing their utmost to assist them. Here we see a positive look at what they were willing to do for each other, as well as what some of them were willing to do to survive, sometimes even sacrificing themselves in order for the others to survive. Definitely one of the best of the modern day teenage ficition I’ve read.

Now let’s have a look at the Hunger Games. I have watched the movies, but haven’t personally read the books. When one watches the Hunger Games, it is truly atrocious how people are pitted against each other in a game of death where only one champion survives. These ‘victors’ are lauded and glorified by their districts as heroes. Nothing could be more horrifying BUT our heroine arises, one Katniss Eberdeen. Katniss, as anyone who’s watched the movie knows, sacrifices herself for her little sister, Prim. In the Hunger Games, we witness something similar to what happened in Rome at the Coliseum. However, the witnesses to the Hunger Games were exclusively the rich and their viewers were extremely flamboyant. Their blood-thirsty nature preyed on these innocent children’s lives and, in-turn, caused them to kill each other purely for the viewer’s own entertainment. We even see the effects that this has on the victor’s psyche. Man’s cruel abuse in forcing fellow humans to make a choice between heroism or survival, between life or death, is an age old act.

My last example comes from the greatest of the poets and playwrights the world will ever know, our beloved Shakespeare. In his play, Macbeth, we see Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, led by a prophecy from three witches that they would rule the kingdom one day, but this would come at a heavy cost to them. Despite the warning given, they were willing to kill anyone who stood between them and the throne. However, in the end, this cost them their very lives. Their greed for power killed them, just as the witches had prophesied.

For interest sake, other examples of what we mentioned above are the series “Lost”, “Survivor” and the movie “Life of Pi”. I can’t vouch for Survivor, but I will say that “Lost”and the “Life of Pi” are a perfect example of man’s inhumanity toward man.

We have looked at a few examples from classics and modern day fiction. Now let’s have a look at what leading psychologists have to say about this particular topic.

The term ‘Wille zum Leben’ or ‘will to survive’ was orginally coined by Arthur Schopenhauer who was a German philosopher born in Poland on the 22nd of February 1788. He stated that it was a psychological force of self-preservation, whether conscious or unconcious, representing an active and necessary process of reasoning causing an autonomic response to survive. Many people who survived near-death experiences describe it as their “driving force”, in other words what kept them fighting to stay alive. Psychologists have something else to add to this statement, saying that this is coupled with our hopes and expectations for the future. This is something I never even considered, but it is a very valid point. Why fight to survive if not for a specific purpose or hope in the future?

This desire to survive at all costs has been called many things by many people. Sigmund Freud called it ‘the pleasure principle’. Viktor Frankl, developed a type of psychotherapy he called ‘logotherapy’. Maslow’s Hierarchy, which represents the different priorities we have established in our lives, has at it’s very basis the will to surivive, before such requirements as love and the need to belong. As well as all this, our will to live is also influenced by our existent drives, should they be diminshed or achieved it may affect us in a negative or even positive aspect, this could sometimes lead to depression or feelings of euphoria/happines. Psychologists have much to say about man\’s various drives and how they tie into our own will to survive, but they can all agree that every living creature has an innate will to live despite all odds.

Two other things that can affect our will to live are ‘fear’ and ‘pain’. While pain alerts us to a problem within our bodies and enables us to quickly identify the problem and treat it, it can also be an emotional suffering for example the loss of a loved one or the loss of a relationship that you greatly valued. However, fear is a far more complex creature. Typically fear releases adrenaline giving us the needed stimulus to run and seek safety or security, or even to fight off whatever is causing danger. Fear may sometimes be because of an outside stimulus, but sometimes, despite all logic, fear exists. In the treatment of this kind of fear, finding a coping mechanism is recommended, or even seeing a doctor who can help you. Sometimes it may be a chemical problem that can\’t be cured by an external force. Anything as long as it gives you an escape from what causes your anxiety or fear.

We are hard-wired to survive for a variety of reasons, even the simplest of organisms face this same pressure to advance and succeed. There was a Japanese hiker who, after being seperated from his tour group, essentially hibernated for 24 days. Humans don\’t hibernate. This amazing man was discovered to have no damage to his body at all. He recovered without any brain damage. Here we can clearly see he was not willing to give up his will to survive.

There are many movies and stories out there of people who suffered the most traumatic experiences, but despite all odds, these people survived. In school my mother read us the book, The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier. This story is the journey of 6 young people striving to be re-united with their parents in Switzerland during the Polish Holocast. In one scene, in order to escape a prison camp, Edek, the oldest brother, had to cling onto the bottom of a train in the freezing cold winter. If you want to read what happened to these brave children and their journey of courage, faith and survival look for the book. You won\’t regret it, I promise.

When it comes to survival, there will always be the selfish and the selfless. I like to think I’m the latter and not the former, but only once I’m in that position will I know for sure. That’s a question I hope I never have to answer. It’s a question I hope none of you will ever have to answer.

I have a new Facebook page called the Weird and Wonderful on Facebook, I have shared the link on my Facebook page already. Share and follow, I will be posting weird and wonderful little facts for your interest. Again, thank you for your continued support. I appreciate each and everyone of you. 🙂

God bless you all my avidReaders. Look after yourselves.

1 thought on “The Will to Survive”

  1. Kenneth Williams

    I loved this. The first six years of service in the South African Police, exposed me to a plethora of situations in which I witnessed this phenomena first hand.
    Well researched and insightful 👍👊

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