Many people end up in survival situations because of their ego. Our egos blind us to reality and push us in irrational directions. Often, a person is trying to prove something or establish their superiority by doing things such as climb mountains, engage in extreme athletic events, and so on. In the city, many (mostly men) will end up getting into street fights in order to “save face”. The cause of many violent crimes is exactly this – injury to the ego and the avoidance of shame or humiliation. In schools, the same behaviour is replicated by youth, both male and female, copying their adult role models. In fact, entire lives are often based around ego – the pursuit of high-status jobs, fame, wealth, etc. Nations go to war as an extension of the leaders' egos. And civilisations self-destruct for the same reason.
Unfortunately, however, ego has nothing to do with our health and well-being; rather, it is the source of misery and our own self-destruction. Even on a broader scale, the destruction of the natural world, including climate change, can be seen as a direct result of our egos, our selfishness and greedy pursuits.
So what to do? One of the best pieces of wisdom comes from that old Kenny Roger's song, “The Gambler”:
You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
This is very good advice!
For example, in the wild, many people get into survival situations because they ignore weather forecasts. They did not “walk away” from their initial plans. Similarly, many people end up in trouble when they press on through dangerous conditions, just trying to get to their destination, rather than either turn back or stop and seek immediate shelter. They were stubborn and unwilling to accept a change in plans.
In a potential street fight, or a war between nations, the fight can be avoided if at least one of those involved has the wisdom to back down, defer, walk away, etc. - and just be willing to look like the weaker one for the sake of peace. This of course requires humility.
The point is, we have to know when it's time to walk away, whether from the poker table, from dangerous weather conditions, from war, from the burning of fossil fuels, from dangerous technologies, from a legal dispute, or simply from an argument between two people. In all these cases, failure to walk away means making things worse.
The failure to walk away is an act of self-destruction, which we discover only too late.
Make the best choice. Ignore your ego.
Nearly always! Human evolution is the story of avoiding conflict. Humans had two million years of cultures which minimised ego and minimised violence. (The idea of humans as inherently violent is only a creation of civilisation.) This was often done through avoidance, mediation and humour.
Look, if you can avoid a fight, that's your best choice. Even if you're big and muscular, fighting always carries huge risks. All it takes is one misstep from you, or a lucky strike from the other person, and you could end up seriously wounded, or dead. Often we overestimate our strength, or underestimate our opponent, and then are shocked (and injured) by the result. You just never know.
A basic rule of self-defense is, if someone threatens you and you have the opportunity to escape, then escape. Run. If someone threatens you with a knife or gun and asks for your wallet and jewelry, give it to them, and let them go away with what they want. It's not worth risking your life for money or jewelry.
On the other hand, if it's clear someone intends to hurt you, then you MUST fight back.
When encountering wild animals, you take the same approach. Slowly back away from the grizzly bear, or elephant, or mountain lion, snake, shark, etc. Wild animals aren't usually interested in humans and don't normally go looking for a fight. Fight back only if attacked, and then, do it with everything you've got.
The bottom line is, in fights all parties involved usually suffer injuries, even the “victor”. Look at any war. Every side in a war suffers, especially the general population, and of course, the natural environment. So really, no one wins in any war. Sometimes, both sides are absolutely guaranteed to suffer immensely. The perfect example of this is nuclear war. There is no such thing as “winning” a nuclear war. In a nuclear war, everyone on the planet loses. This has been called "mutually assured destruction" - MAD. (Anyone growing up during the Cold War, from Russia and the U.S., especially, would remember this.)
Even in fights between two people, whether physical or verbal/emotional, no one really wins. There are always emotional and psychological costs. Sometimes worse. It is a pyrrhic victory; that is, the price paid for any perceived "victory" is actually so great that it adds up to defeat.
Which underscores the important idea: if a fight isn't necessary, then avoid it, because things could get a whole lot worse for you. Put aside your ego, count your blessings, and get on with your life.
As the military computer Joshua in the 1983 film Wargames says;
"The only winning move is not to play."
For more on peaceful cultures, read these books by Douglas Fry:
I came across this old fable, which has some useful survival lessons. The lesson is similar to most survival lessons: stay calm, control emotions, do not panic, think things through, take precautions, and act with a good heart. And any self-defense tools are only used in self-defense.
This is the story (altered slightly from the original):
There once was a king and queen of a small kingdom. They were generally well-liked by everyone, but each had one main flaw. The king was naive and easily tricked by others, while the queen was guileful and used a mask to hide her cunning.
What the queen wanted above all else was full control over the kingdom. Like many on the spiritual path, what the king wanted was to leave the kingdom behind and live the life of an ascetic. This made no sense to the queen, who believed the king was trying to get rid of her. So she conspired to have the king locked in the palace dungeon.
Once the king learned of her plan, he enlisted the aid of a medicine man, who then helped him to make a magic spell, a spell which could destroy her mask, the source of all her power. But the king was not mean-spirited and had no wish to use it. He only held it in case the queen tried to hurt him. He summoned his trusted messenger and sent the queen a warning of his desire to depart the kingdom in peace and of his possession of the spell should she try to stop him. The choice was hers.
The queen, ruled by her fear and hatred, immediately had the guards throw the king into the dungeon. He was forced to use his magic spell. The queen's mask disintegrated, allowing everyone to see her deceit and cunning. She lost her advisors, she lost the support of the people, she lost her power and she lost all her riches. In fact, she was thrown into the dungeon, while the king was freed and allowed to continue on his path.
Key rules of survival and good decision-making, applicable to all aspects of life: control your emotions and think things through.