Television shows like Survivor, Naked and Afraid and the newest, Castaways, interest me. I often wonder why people would choose to leave their comfortable lives to go out into the wild, sleep among untamed animals, and face the challenges of the elements. With a fast food drive-through on every corner in urban America and easy accessibility to mega supermarkets, few of us have experienced ongoing, gnawing hunger. And yet, the folks who participate in these shows must willingly face starvation. (And bugs) It defies all logic, doesn’t it?
Since the beginning of time, man has tested his limits. Explorers and adventurers have bravely attempted the impossible and illogical just to see if it can be done. It seems to be one of those deep human needs, more pressing in some people than in others. And while these shows certainly push the boundaries of human endurance, they all have one common denominator: those who persevere, those who suffer through the hunger and loneliness, the fear and frustration and misery learn something important about themselves. When the goal in life is simply to survive, when each breath, each morsel of food, each moment of safety is significant, everything else becomes inconsequential. Once all is stripped away, we return to the simplest versions of ourselves. It is then that one is able to prioritize and understand what truly has meaning. It sort of puts life into perspective, right?
But there is also a social experiment at work here. You see, in order to build that shelter, hunt that food, make that fire, one needs help. We are able to witness the struggle of human beings, who desperately need to get along, to work together, but find it difficult as they allow petty annoyances and differences to divide and conquer them. Art imitates life. And ultimately, most learn that without cooperation, there is no progress. Or worse than that, they face dire consequences and despair.
I have often used this simple analogy:
If I need to reach something of great importance on a top shelf, but I have no ladder or stool upon which to step, how do I retrieve it? I may look around in frustration until my obliging friend says, “Here, step into my clasped hands, and I will boost you up.”
So who is more important, the person who reaches the shelf or the person providing the boost? And the answer, of course, is neither. For in that moment, they become one. And there is power in that oneness since it makes the impossible possible.
The idea applies to life as well as silly modern television shows. We need each other in order to be successful. The supportive helping hand offered unselfishly can mean the difference between accomplishment and failure. It is a theme we see repeated over and over again. And yet, I can’t help but wonder why we find it so difficult to do, why we must stop and consider the personal implications first. When one assumes that he must blow out another’s candle so that his can burn brighter, he takes a dangerous and sad detour.
And so, even a contrived scenario like being marooned in some desolate, uninhabited place, can be instructive if we pay attention to how the story plays out before us. Almost without fail, when these people rejoin the world they left behind, they are changed. They have discovered that no man is an island, nor should he want to be. They have exposed their own strengths and weaknesses, and that knowledge, along with its accompanying vulnerability has altered them. The lessons they have gathered, both big and small, change their perception forever as they resolve to be better versions of themselves in the future.
We often find ourselves in uncomfortable situations. Sometimes, we choose them, a new job or move, for example, but sometimes, we don’t, like illness or loss. Each such experience not only challenges us but can also be powerfully transformative, for it is then, that we truly grow. And, after all, isn't that we are meant to do in this ultimate adventure we call life?