Sunday, June 27, 2010

Adapt or Die

I'm a sailor. On the surface, that might not seem to be much of a connection to survival, but hang with me for a minute and I'll explain.

As a sailor, I know one thing — I don't control the wind. I don't control how strong the wind is, and I don't control the direction it blows. All I can control is my response to the wind. I can either let the wind knock the boat down, or I can use it as a tool to get me where I want to go. My choice.

On the boat, there are several key indicators that tell me what the wind it doing. At the top of the mast is a thing called a Windex — a pivoting pointer with an airplane-like tail that shows where the wind is coming from. On the shrouds (the cables that hold the mast up) are ribbons that do the same thing. On the sails are telltales that show how efficiently I have the sails trimmed to take maximum advantage of the wind. I watch all these things constantly and make appropriate adjustments to the direction I'm sailing, or to the way I have the sails trimmed, or to the amount of sail I have up.

So what does all this have to do with survival? Just this — to sail successfully, it is absolutely necessary to be adaptable; and to be a survivor, it is absolutely necessary to be adaptable. You must be willing and able to make adjustments when the situation changes. If you don't adapt, you die.

In order to adapt to changes, you must first be aware of the changes. You have to be watching for the shifts  in the wind, so to speak. You can't just go through life with your head down, your earbuds blaring, and ignoring what the key indicators are trying to tell you. Pay attention to what's happening around you, and then take appropriate action.

On the boat, I can actually feel the shifts in the wind  by the way the boat suddenly stands up or heels over. I hear the wake increase or decrease. I can sense when things aren't quite right.

In life, if something doesn't feel quite right, doesn't sound quite right, doesn't smell quite right … it's time to figure out why. Maybe it's a sudden rustle in the bushes beside the trail, or unexpected footsteps in your house. Maybe it's the faint odor of rotten eggs, or a whiff of smoke in the air. Maybe it's a creepy feeling that raises the hair on the back of your neck when you're walking along a dark road. DO NOT IGNORE THESE THINGS!

Use all of your senses to keep yourself alive. They will alert you to dangers you may not be able to see or identify immediately. These are the telltales that indicate a shift in the wind that is going to require some action on your part to keep your ship afloat and upright.

Don't get stuck on one plan of action that would exclude adaptation. Being stubborn is good, insofar as you refuse to give up and die, but it can get you killed if you are unwilling to adapt as the situation changes. One of the key characteristics you must acquire in order to survive is a willingness to adapt and employ a foundation of skills and knowledge that give you the ability to modify your actions to keep you alive.

In sailing, we can't control the wind, the waves, the tides, the currents. In a survival situation, we can't control every aspect of the situation, so we have to learn to adapt if we want to live.

On the boat, there's a time to sail, and there's a time to take the sails down. There's a lesson in that.

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