We live when we have something to live for.
Time and again, when you hear from a survivor, what you hear is “I thought of my son, daughter, wife, husband, parents…” We would think that survival would be a very selfish process, but it’s not. It’s much more about how embedded in a family or a community we are. Seemingly, we cannot save ourselves. Survival, even salvation, lies in our love for our family and community. Survivors literally use the power of love to survive. People who care about others have a better chance of surviving. At the moment of truth, if we are thinking only about ourselves, we are at a disadvantage.
How do we get ourselves into trouble? Simply wanting to do something can often overwhelm all other considerations. We know we shouldn’t, but we want to. So we tell ourselves a story. Our story is built on truth. We turn experience into stories. They feel real and truthful to us. When the story reflects the world as it really is, we do well. When they don’t, we find ourselves in trouble. Want something badly enough and the story will only have the thinnest veneer of truth. It’s a false story. And it leads to the commonly used phrase “What were they thinking?”
To use a recent example what was disgraced former Govenor Eliot Spitzer thinking? What story did he tell himself that made these actions OK?
And how many times did I hear someone say “What was he thinking?” in regard to Spitzer’s actions? Too many to count.
People swim in shark infested waters and get hurt…”What were they thinking?”
People climb mountains when storms are approaching… “What were they thinking?”
People get drunk, attempt to drive home and kill themselves and others… “What were they thinking?”
You’d never let anyone hurt you as badly as you hurt yourself.
Logic and reason can inform us but emotion makes us decide and act. And wanting is an emotional thing. Without the aid of the stories we create and the emotions they generate, we are all but paralyzed. Stories hurt us when they reflect only our desires. Stories help us by making other’s experiences real and prevent us from having to experience every situation for ourselves. They warn us of things so we don’t have to survive them ourselves. But for the latter to occur you need to be embedded in a family or a community, to trust other’s experience. And as we know, people who do trust, who feel that connection, who don’t only think of themselves survive even the the most dangerous, stress filled, gasping for breath, I-almost-lost-my-life moments. Such is the power of love.