| The Survivors Club: The Secrets and Science that Could Save Your Life |
By Ben Sherwood
GLENN: Ben Sherwood is a guy who has written a book called The Survivors Club. I haven't had a chance to read this, but everybody on my staff has read it and said my gosh, Glenn, you've got to read this book. Just what we're just talking about is really the point of the book. If you know, if you've seen it in your own head first, you'll be a member of The Survivors Club. Ben Sherwood is here. Hey, Ben, how are you?
SHERWOOD: Hey, Glenn, it's great to be here.
GLENN: Thank you very much. Where did I go wrong on this? I'm not talking about the economy but playing out in your head and thinking the unthinkable in advance as being something actually that's positive to do.
SHERWOOD: You didn't go wrong at all. The truth is when you talk to survivors around the world, and I met hundreds of them trying to find the secrets of people who can bounce back from anything, mountain lion attacks, foreclosure, disasters, earthquakes, people who are the best survivors share a kind of personality, and they're not that different from you and me. In fact, we're all kind of the same. We just don't realize we have those strengths inside us, and one of the most important things as you said is to pay attention and to have a plan and to have a Plan B, and a lot more to the survivor personality but that sort of awareness, it's called situational awareness in the military, that's a huge part of what it takes to be a survivor in tough times.
GLENN: Okay. So break it down to little things like foreclosure or losing your job. What did you learn from survivors on that?
SHERWOOD: What I learned from survivors of economic tough times is that they don't walk away from their 401(k) envelope when it arrives in the mail. One of the things that I hear a lot these days from friends and from family is they just can't bear to open up the company 401(k) form and see it keep shrinking and shrinking, so they don't. And that's sort of like sitting on an airplane and watching the wing on fire and refusing to look out the window or they will run to one of the exits. The fact is that the most effective survivors face the reality and then develop a plan and they are adaptable in the face of new situations and new challenges. And I saw this in every kind of crisis, whether it's economic, whether it's health. You name it, the survivor personality's one that sort of faces the facts and begins to deal with it.
GLENN: So help me out on this because I -- and maybe it's human nature and not necessarily arrogance, or maybe it's both. I remember on September 11th, everybody prayed, everybody went to church. I cracked my Bible. I think a lot of people did. And I read about the Tower of Babel and the thing that really stuck out to me was, "And in their arrogance they built a tower to reach the sky," and that phrase has stuck with me since September 11th, and it's the arrogance -- I have thought it's the arrogance but I'm beginning to think now it's just human nature. I thought it was the arrogance of, "We're America; nothing can happen to us; it will always be this way" that was really going to be our downfall, but actually that's human nature to not look -- I don't hear anybody saying, "Hey, you know, guys, there is a real possibility things get very, very bad for us." Everybody wants to run the other way and say, "No, it's all sunshine and lollipops; come on, everything's been fine; everything always will be fine."
SHERWOOD: There's an interesting phenomenon in any crisis and it's called the Normalcy Bias. That means that people in a fire, in a plane crash, in an economic recession, they just want normalcy to prevail and so they look at the facts around them. Even in department stores, as department stores have caught fire, people go to the cash registers and pay for their goods. That's just a human response to want things to be okay, and if you want to survive a recession or if you want to survive a health problem, you can't just sort of go to normal. You've got to go to a plan and take action.
GLENN: But the problem is that a plan doesn't even start necessarily with a plan. It starts with knowing where the exits are.
GLENN: So give me the example of the great white fire. Remember that fire in, where was it, Providence? It was up in Rhode Island.
SHERWOOD: The Station fire, sure.
SHERWOOD: So that's a case where most of us when we go in one entrance to a sporting event or an airplane or a nightclub or a restaurant, we sort of think that's the entrance and that's the exit, but when experts looked at that Station fire in Rhode Island where a band was playing and 100 people lost their lives from the pyrotechnics display caught fire and turned in a nightclub into an inferno, turns out that 60 people could have lived if they had responded immediately to the fire and had not all headed for the entrance that they had come in. And what that means in survival terms, and it goes exactly to your point which is you've got to know the exits, you've got to have a plan, you have to think about these things ahead of time is that and people had reacted quickly and they had known there were other ways to get out of there besides the way they had come in, 60 people would have lived. And they've analyzed this very carefully and what I take away from that is that there's a survivor personality and we have all this these qualities inside of us and there's also some basic knowledge that we all need to know about getting through everyday life, whether it's basic economic planning but it's also the safest stuff like the safest seat on an airplane or the right days and the wrong days to go to a hospital. There's sort of some basic knowledge. So when you combine the personal qualities that it takes to survive, test times and to face your storm and if you combine the basic knowledge that is required to get through stuff, you can really improve your chances in just about any situation.
GLENN: Help me out on this because I have been saying to people to get out of this for the last few years, get out of debt, there's a storm coming, get out of debt, don't buy stuff that you don't need, look for the best value on things that you do want to buy or do have to buy. I've also said -- and people just make fun of me all the time, and fine with me. Get some food. Have some food. Just even as an investment, if inflation starts to go up, you are not going to lose any money on food. You're going to consume it anyway. But people will say, "Well, that's crazy, you don't need all that food." I don't understand the unwillingness to break the mold and just be -- to think the unthinkable but to prepare for the worst and expect the best.
SHERWOOD: So here's the thing that they say and the experts call that, it's sort of a high consequence, low probability event is what they say. So an earthquake or what you're describing, which is a total economic collapse or for instance Mexico failing next door, those are events that no one wants to think about and so when they've studied how we behave in the face of potential high consequence, low probability events, people don't do what they need to do. So I'm not a survivalist. I'm just a regular guy and a writer and a journalist and I don't carry around canned goods and flares in my briefcase just in the event of an emergency, but I do believe in sort of some basic planning and some preparation. And after writing this book, you know, we've got an emergency kit in the back of our car now and we've got flashlights in various places in our house and we've got, as you describe, we've stocked up on some stuff and we check the air in our tires when we go out for a drive because it turns out that these basic things that people don't do, as you've been describing and the results can be really serious.
GLENN: I swear to you, are you from New York, Ben?
SHERWOOD: I'm actually, I grew up in Los Angeles. I spent a lot of time in New York, though. I work in New York.
GLENN: I swear to you people in these cities, especially New York, which, it's an island and they don't -- they think that New Jersey is like Europe. They just, they don't even understand it. I think if there was a Katrina ever in Manhattan, there would be like 40 survivors. There would be people who just, they would be eating each other within a week because they wouldn't have any concept of how to even function. Everything happens and it's all, "Well, no, the bus is supposed to be..." you'd have people waiting for their bus or their subway that would just be doing it by roads and, "Wait a minute, I don't know what to do."
SHERWOOD: So in fairness to the people of New York, and you described September 11th earlier, that was an incredible display of a community rallying at an incredibly tough time. And I would say you're right, a lot of that survival instinct has been bred out of us because there's a grocery store down the corner and everything is sort of handed to us in an easy fashion.
GLENN: In some ways because it has to be. For it to function, it has to be. You're not -- you know, you ain't going to Central Park and, you know, planting turnips. You know what I mean?
SHERWOOD: One of the most interesting things in all of my research is this myth of panic, and you mentioned it earlier when you were talking about the nations of the world like passengers on the Titanic floating on the water and fighting and pushing each other under. One of the surprises about how people behave in disasters and in crises and how you can get into The Survivors Club, one of the surprises is that when they've looked at earthquakes and terrorism and other problems around the world, that kind of mindless unreasoning fear, that kind of panic where people literally it's mayhem and hysteria, every man or woman for themselves, that almost never happens. And in fact, in an incredible crisis people engage in what they call situational altruism. They actually sort of come together and do the right thing and in fact, on U.S. Air 1549 the other day in the Hudson, there was organized chaos on that plane but people sort of got their way out and they actually helped each other. So I do think --
GLENN: Hang on just a second. I want to take issue on this. You know, I have to take a break, but think about the answer to this. I want to take issue on this on that fire again in Rhode Island. They couldn't even pull the bodies out of the door, they were packed so tightly climbing on top of each other to get out. I mean, there is, there is that, you know, let's help each other out, et cetera, et cetera, but there also comes a point to where it does become like The Titanic where you're just, a drowning man will push another one down to save himself, not thinking. Hang on just a second. We'll get you a chance to respond to that. It's The Survivors Club by Ben Sherwood.
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