Psychological Survival

When I was in grad school, a professor started a semester with 2 questions: Would you ever have owned a slave? Would you have ever considered being a Nazi?

Of course everyone answered “no”.

Weeks later he stormed into the classroom and was clearly pissed off. He stated that someone in the class had complained that he didn’t give enough tests, so he was administering one today. Two people spoke up to tell him that was unfair and he yelled at them and sent them out of the room. He left the class after passing out the test and I started to hear giggles. I turned over the test and it said: “Behavior modification works.” On the next page, “I can make you do almost anything I want.” And on the last page, “I just proved it to you.”

When asked why we didn’t challenge him, we explained it was because we pay a lot of money for school and want to make good grades. His point was that, if we wouldn’t speak up because of money and grades, what made us think we would have stood up to slavery or the Nazis? Speaking up could have you killed, or your family.

It was a powerful message that I never forgot. It made me think of the show “Walking Dead” and the book “Lord of the Flies”. Both stories are about survival in which common everyday people become the monsters they started out fearing.

Of course, it’s hard to imagine being in situations such as that in our time. A zombie apocalypse isn’t realistic and it’s not every day we get stranded on a desert island. However, there are extremely stressful situations such as combat and natural disasters. Under extreme duress it’s easy to fall into an “anything goes” situation.

How does one maintain psychological survival in those instances? You have to direct your fears, manage your emotions, and keep your ego in check. You have to first decide TO survive. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. If you’re in the mindset that you can do it, then you will. Don’t ever accept the “fact” that it’s a useless, helpless situation.

You also have to value teamwork and accept that there might be others who are better at certain things than you. Make sure to delegate responsibilities and focus on each individual’s strengths rather than weaknesses. It’s important for us all to be aware of our core values and not to panic in stressful situations. When you are feeling overwhelmed, that’s an indication that you need to step back from the situation, assess what’s going on, remember your core values, and act accordingly.

Hope that helps!