Strategies for Survival

(Peace is the one condition of survival in this nuclear age - Adlai Stevenson)



1.  What are survival strategies

We have Charles Darwin to thank for for the principle of natural selection propounded in The Origin of Species.  Evolution would depend on the strength of survival-favouring conditions.  Fight or flight was the order of the primitive day.  Indeed, it exists in one form or another to the present time.  What also undeniably persists are the many human traits and characteristics, physiological and emotional, that derive from earlier survival activities.  To this fight or flight syndrome one may add attachment, a survival strategy that involves bonding for the purpose of protection from predators, the teaching of survival skills, and the ability to satisfy basic needs.  The “father” of stress theory, Hans Selye, added the further stress responses of adaptation or surrender to overwhelming conditions. (1) 

Eight survival strategies have been identified as Rescue (rescuing others and being rescued by others): Attachment (bonding for mutual protection); Assertiveness (goal achievement); Adaptation (goal surrender), Fight (removal of danger); Flight (escape from danger); Competition (obtaining scarce essentials); and Cooperation (creating scarce essentials). (2)


(1)   Peace of Mind is a Piece of Cake by Michael Mallows and Joe Sinclair, 1998.

(2) Source:   From Survival to Fulfillment by Paul Valent, 1998.


2.  The corruption of survival strategy morality

Surviving humiliation.

There has been a proliferation in recent years of TV programmes that attract audiences whose delight is at the expense of someone else's discomfort.  The programmes are all associated with what has come to be known as "reality television".  What distinguishes them mainly, from the "survival strategy morality" perspective is that they all achieve their effects from some form of public humiliation.  The saddest commentary on present day public taste is that the more humiliating the behaviour of participants, the more entertaining it appears to be.  That is, of course, when the entertainment factor is judged by audience ratings.

It is not, however, simply in game shows that this aspect of public taste is exhibited.  It is equally evident in "so-called" documentary style programmes.  Take, for example, the comments of Professor Jonathan Nichols-Pethick on the American MSNBC news programme about the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.  ". . . it affords us a range of pleasures from the voyeuristic pleasure of seeing people humiliated and put in frightening situations."  He might have been speaking of the less horrifying situation (but nevertheless based on equally deplorable emotions) of participants in the Survivor, Apprentice, Weakest Link and Big Brother programmes.

Nichols-Pethick noted the recent statements of Private Lynndie England, an Army Reservist who was stationed at the prison and who is seen in one photo holding a leash attached to a detainee's neck.  She talks about the fact that it was just fun and they were having fun and pictures were taken. She talks about fooling around. She talks about also not going to extremes.   So for whom was it fun.  For the army personnel who were "fooling around"?  For the Iraqi prisoners with whom they were "fooling around"?  Or for the voyeurs who got so much fun out of watching the programme?

That was in the USA.  

Ahah, you might say, it couldn't happen in the UK.  

Think again.

The BBC website of February 27, 2005 featured a story which began: "The Iraqi abuse photos which led to the conviction of two British soldiers were an extreme example of what some believe to be a growing trend.  One picture showed Lance Corporal Darren Larkin, dressed only in boxer shorts and flip-flops, standing on top of a distressed Iraqi. Another showed an Iraqi suspended from the prongs of a forklift truck.  In another, two prisoners were forced to simulate a sex act, putting their thumbs up for the camera as they did so. All the pictures were taken at a British base in Basra two years ago.  Tony Blair said the photos were "shocking and appalling". But weren't they also strangely familiar?"

Is this not simply an extension of the reality TV programmes that thrive on humiliating both yourself and others in front of the camera?   "Dirty Sanchez on MTV is a show about three Welsh skateboarding slackers who do ever-more outrageous things for the titillation of their largely teenage audience - including smashing one another about the head with blocks of wood, stapling their hands to a table, and eating stinging nettles.  Their inspiration is Jackass, the hit US show that featured bored middle-class twenty-somethings abusing themselves, their friends and perfect strangers.  It is thought to have influenced a controversial American video Bumfights, in which middle class students paid homeless people to fight, and even defecate, for the cameras."

And so to the latest, recently completed, offering on British TV.  Based on the American show hosted by Donald Trump, The Apprentice (Sir Alan Sugar as host) is by no means as "hard core" as the shows described above, but no less humiliating for many of the participants.  Sugar is also somewhat more "earthy" than Trump as his humble beginnings might suggest.  "I don't like bullshitters, schmoozers, liars or cheats," was how he greeted the Apprentice contestants.  He then set them tasks based on the type of marketing experience he apparently valued, such as buying £500-worth of flowers and selling them at a profit.  He divided the contestants (14 in number) into two teams; dividing them by gender.  What does this tell us?  At the end of the three months or so of programmes, one contestant being given marching orders each week with the (ultimately infamous) phrase: "You're fired!", he had found a new assistant who would earn in excess of £100,000.  Was it pure coincidence that both finalists were "ethnically visible"?

So a record audience squirmed and held its breath through the final desperate moments while Sir Alan was going through an apparent trauma of indecision and the finalists were doing their best not to be too panicked.  They had practised - all 14 of them - every strategy for survival they could conjure up, but only one survived.  So what did it prove?

Well it was a cut above Big Brother, I guess.  It was also less blatantly vindictive than the Weakest Link.  And it made what passes for good television (i.e. good audience ratings) for the TV company that produced it.

It doesn't pay to think about what it says of our deteriorating standards of morality.

3.  Surviving a destructive relationship

Domestic violence victims employ a variety of survival strategies.  Battered women are survivors. Asking them why they don’t leave an abusive relationship is somewhat simplistic: It ignores the complex set of factors battered women must weigh to decide how best to protect themselves and their children. Implying that it is the responsibility of the battered woman to end the violence blames her for the abuse and does not hold the batterer accountable for his crime.

Quite simply, a battered woman might be told she will be killed, or her children will be killed, if she leaves or refuses to return. Past violence has taught her that his threats often translate into action. Leaving also might harm her children if he gets custody or visitation. If she is still in the relationship, she can monitor his interactions with the children. Indeed, the decision to leave an abusive relationship is not as straightforward as it might seem.

It is important to remember that battered women do escape the violence in their lives. Friends, family and a network of service providers within a  supportive community can be instrumental for a battered woman who chooses to make the overwhelmingly difficult decision to uproot her life.

What at first might appear to an outsider to be “crazy” or self-defeating behavior on the part of the victim, such as being afraid to seek the services of a battered women’s program or wanting to return to the abuser in spite of severe violence, in fact might be normal reactions to significantly frightening situations. A victim uses different strategies to cope with and resist abuse. These strategies might appear to be the result of passivity or submission, when in reality she has learned that these are sometimes successful temporary means of stopping the violence.

1 - Understanding the Dynamics
2 - Unlike Other Crimes
3 - Types of Abuse
4 - Survival Strategies
5 - Affects All Types of Women
6 - Behaviors of Batterers
7 - Can a Batterer Change?
8 - Effects on Children
9 - Advocating for Battered Women
10 - Available Services 

4.  Surviving a cancer diagnosis

It may be easier to survive a major ill-health concern than to cope with the well-intentioned, but totally inappropriate, efforts of friends and family to make light of your condition.

Rosanne Kalick is a cancer survivor.  In May 2005 her book entitled Cancer Etiquette (what to say, what to do, when someone you know or love has cancer) was published by Bookmasters in the USA.  ISBN: 0874604508

In an interview Ms Kalick described how, when she informed a close friend that she would need a double mastectomy, her friend responded: “Well at least you’ll be symmetrical”.

This attempt at humour, probably a strategy deriving from shock or embarrassment, or a mistaken belief that making light of the situation would be of help if not comfort, was quite misguided.  It was particularly hurtful to Rosanne Kalick as she had previously endured treatment for a blood cancer and had presumed that her friends would know by now how best to react.

She discussed this episode with other cancer survivors and learned that her experience was far from unique.  It is apparently quite normal to have to endure insensitive comments and awkward gestures.  There must be some approved form of behaviour to cover this situation, she thought, but could find no information on the subject.

So she wrote the book, which contains stories from other survivors and practical advice about communication strategies for friends and family.  She gives examples of what is appropriate in the way of humour, what to say and what not to say, when religious comments may be unacceptable, and what sort of mental and physical changes occur with cancer sufferers.

One of her most telling comments is: "If you did not speak about an individual's sex life, breast size or baldness before the diagnosis, what makes you think it is appropriate to ask those questions now?"

Making the occasional gaffe is going to happen, even when the person's intentions are entirely innocent, Kalick says. In the long run, it's not the gaffes that matter; it's the connection between people. Seldom does someone want to endure cancer alone.




   Women are more comfortable sharing information; men tend to collect it.