Who lives, who dies, and why. This is part of the title of Deep Survival, a book about why some people survive while others die in accidents and other human tragedies.
The author, himself an adventurer, begins with the story of his father’s last mission over Germany during World War II. The lone survivor of a B-17 bomber shot down by the Germans, he survived the crash, the severe injuries, and the prisoner camp to come back home, start a family, and live a full life.
As his father’s son, he felt compelled to understand what contributed to his father’s amazing story; basically the Right Stuff that enabled his father, his comrades, and succeeding military people and civilians from then to now to be able to survive horrific events.
Using stories of ship wrecks and mountain climbing and hiking accidents, the author finds and examines the commonalities of the survivors mindsets and actions.
What makes a survivor is also what makes winner at life. The keys, according to author Laurence Gonzales, are:
1. Humility. Accepting where you are and what got you there. Being open to the world around you.
2. Laughter. Being able to make light of situation so as to better manage it.
3. Spirituality. Seeing the intertwined beauty of the world and one’s place in it. Feeling the higher purpose that we all need to serve in order to serve ourselves.
4. Rationality. Controlling one’s emotions and using them to drive one to survival. Creating a workable plan and apply consistent actions. Being able to make, at times, the necessary cold and hard decisions required for survival.
5. Courtesy. To oneself and fellow survivors. Treating them with respect as a way to ensure that one retains a sense of self.
As a kendo practitioner, this resonated with me. The philosophy of kendo is one that emphasizes courtesy and humility as well as a cold and calculating rationality with an emphasis on a clean victory, empty of the hubris that the ancients gods of Homer’s time punished.
In practice and on the floor in competition and exams, the practitioner uses all of these characteristics to strengthen himself, to honor the judges, and to unsettle the opponent. The fight is often won before it is started because the battle plan, like the survival plan, consists of the spiritual and physical attributes and learnings that lead to success; deployed rationally but with a full commitment.
Whether in sports, business, or in daily life, one must have a plan built from one’s life experiences, philosophy, and education (from schools that include the “school of hard knocks”). Every day is an addition to the lesson plan that will one day be called upon for victory or survival.