June 8th, 2009

Live Together, Die Alone


photo credit: micsx032

In 1624, the English poet John Donne wrote in one of his Meditations that “no man is an island.” His poem explains how our common humanity ties us together in one common thread, and that as individuals we cannot thrive in isolation. Christians have been taught likewise, their common identity as followers of Jesus binding them together into a body focused on one purpose. Whatever the commonality that brings us together, the simple fact is that our spiritual and physical survival depends on our willingness and ability to help one another along our shared path.

This principle is especially important in terms of preparedness. When a catastrophe comes our way, each family will quickly discover a need for things they didn’t think to keep in supply, and only through bartering and buying from others will they be able to obtain those things. Isolated individuals will be easy prey for roving gangs and other desperate groups. Lack of communication will increase frustration, loneliness, and ignorance. Only by becoming part of a trusted network beforehand will we be able to more easily deal with whatever disasters may strike.

Numerous stories of survival bear out the wisdom in this concept. One such example comes from a group of mentally unstable people sticking together after Hurricane Katrina struck:

They’re out there.

The shooters, the choppers, the looters, the lines, the foul water and the bodies. Especially the bodies.

“But we’re in here,” says Victor Fruge.

Others — hundreds of thousands of them — had also escaped from New Orleans. But few could match the extraordinary, even miraculous odyssey of Fruge and his comrades — 16 men with mental illness and addictions, cast out of their group home, Abstract House, by the storm.

For a week the men stuck together through Hurricane Katrina and its rising waters, following a survival instinct like a candle in the dark and gamely caring for each other as they traveled unsupervised for nearly 500 miles.

Along the way they ate and slept in at least four different shelters and caught rides on four different means of transport, always clutching the psychotropic medications that keep their imaginary devils at arm’s length while the real world around them sunk into a deeper hell.

The article continues, noting how this common experience forced these housemates to band together for their mutual survival:

For these men who are schizophrenic, bipolar, severely depressed, obsessive-compulsive and shellshocked from war — often simultaneously — Hurricane Katrina and its agonizing aftermath have forced them to function as a family, perhaps for the first time in their lives.

“We look out for each other,” says Raymond Jean Pierre, who everybody agrees is the oldest.

“We stick together,” says Patrick Pitchford, whose tattoos crawl down both arms like psychedelic shirt sleeves. “If one person had to go to the bathroom, we all go’d to the bathroom.”

This and other stories of community-based survival illustrate the importance of establishing a trusted network of neighbors before an emergency arises. The fact of the matter is that geography means everything during an emergency—local events affect those in a small area, while general events may likely force communities to take care of themselves. Whatever the scenario, having well-supplied and skilled neighbors you can rely on for assistance is optimal. Basic sustenance, hygiene, medical care, communications, defense, and entertainment can all be effectively continued to some degree after a disaster among a neighborhood where the majority of people know and trust each other, have identified each others’ skills, have delegated assignments and responsibilities, and agreed to maintain a personal supply of basic supplies.

The contrast is not fun to consider. A well-prepared family living in an unprepared neighborhood is, in the event of an emergency, an easy target for hungry, needy neighbors. Even the nicest of fence-mates can turn into an aggressive thief if the circumstances are right (or, well, wrong), he has no food, and his children are starving. A year supply for one family who charitably supports unprepared relatives and neighbors will soon turn into a short-term supply of mere days or weeks. It is apparent, then, that a family is only as prepared as their neighbors are. Anybody who claims to have X months of food storage on hand really only does if their neighbors have the same amount or more, and thus are unlikely to be a drain on their supply.

It has been said that any city is three days away from anarchy. Imagine a disaster where supply lines are cut off, communication is restricted or non-existent, and store shelves are emptied in hours. Within one day, your neighborhood must live on what it has previously stored in their homes. How would you fare? Whom would you support and whom would you turn away? Would you give in and share with the needy, frustrated father of four wanting some of your storage? Or would you keep your food to yourself and defend it at all costs?

Abraham Lincoln once said that “The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.” In each of our neighborhoods exists a handful of potential enemies who, in stressful circumstances and with empty stomachs, would do whatever would be necessary to commandeer some of your supplies. One could ameliorate the situation after the fact by sharing your supplies with would-be agressors, but sooner or later your supplies will run out. It is far better, then, to make friends with them before disaster strikes. Talk to them about food storage, establish or participate in a block captain system, discuss your skills and talents, organize group buys, and most importantly, establish relationships and turn your neighbors into friends. In the event of an emergency, you and your family will personally benefit from the preparations of those around you. All the more reason, then, to work hard now to encourage others to stock up on basic supplies and acquire useful skills.

9 Responses to “Live Together, Die Alone”

  1. James
    June 8, 2009 at 11:33 am #

    A bit easier to do in Utah than in San Diego though…I’m worried I wouldn’t be a good salesman on this idea to the neighbors. I think it’s a very important thing to do though. I’ll just have to figure out how to convince them of the importance.

    Until then, I’m hesitant to show our neighbors what we have done. Not that I’m selfish, but my brother’s neighbor was already threatened that they’d come to her house and go after her food storage in an emergency. Nice guy. He even hinted that he’d come with a gun. I couldn’t believe it when I heard it, but it is true.

  2. Connor
    June 8, 2009 at 1:59 pm #

    A bit easier to do in Utah than in San Diego though…

    Very true. But living in paradise comes with a price tag, in more ways than one I suppose. :)

    To your general point, though, what’s a person to do who already lives in an unprepared neighborhood? What’s an obedient Mormon to do living in relative isolation amongst a bunch of people who have no similar patterns and principles?

    It’s a tough decision. Do you open your home and share what you’ve done with others in order to encourage them to do the same? Or do you keep tight-lipped, fearful of what others around you might do if they were aware of your preparations?

    It’s gambling, really. But each person has to do what feels most comfortable for them. What I do is try and identify people who are open to learning and anxious to prepare themselves, and then I’m willing to share with them what I’ve done. I don’t go advertising my supplies door-to-door, that’s for sure. But once people have demonstrated a willingness to put in some effort, I’ll gladly bring them inside and help them wherever I can.

    I think that too many people think that they’ll simply hide what they’ve prepared and, if necessary, defend their stockpile with their corresponding cache of weaponry. While in certain circumstances this may very well be necessary, I think that in most cases we have failed in true preparedness if we buy some goods and then top it off with a few guns.

    After all, provident living is more about how we’re living now than it is about how we fare during an emergency. If we are truly living provident lives, it will be (for better or for worse) relatively easy for others to notice our different purchasing habits, eating habits, lifestyle, etc. “Peculiar people” stand out, whether they like it or not.

    I know of several people who have decided to move to a location that is more conducive to this lifestyle and mentality. When buying homes, they research their neighbors as much as they do their floor plan, looking for the right environment in which to surround themselves.

    But we need not rely on our neighbors alone. You can make plans with friends and family who live a short distance away and agree on a specific rallying point to which everybody will go with their (mobile) supplies in case of an emergency. Many people will decide this location ahead of time and store extra supplies there, so that when they arrive everything is ready to go. So whether or not you know your neighbors, you can open your home to trusted individuals after an emergency so that you’ve got a good group to work with. Strength in numbers, ya know.

    I’ll just have to figure out how to convince them of the importance.

    For those that are LDS, you might consider working through your ward’s preparedness committee. Organize a relevant activity, put the word out with fliers, and invite your neighbors. Or do a cul-de-sac cookoff with only food storage items and invite those who live near you. Or start a group buy and pass out fliers w/ info in order to help people get their own preparedness gear. Start your own neighborhood email list where you can discuss these other relevant issues. Etc…

    Not that I’m selfish, but my brother’s neighbor was already threatened that they’d come to her house and go after her food storage in an emergency.

    I’ve heard of many such stories. I’ve been told this myself. It’s a startling trend, but one we need to be aware of. In one survival handbook, the author somewhat sarcastically recommends that the reader only need prepare with a rifle and a directory of the local Mormon congregation. So, it’s not an isolated occurrence or an infrequent thought. It’s too easy for people to think that they’ll simply rely on others for their support. In this entitlement culture, I would venture to guess that the majority of people actually think that others will always provide for them whatever they need and desire. Stark reality will set in sooner or later. When that happens, again, we need to be ready. Having large numbers on your side to help defend your supplies and your lives will be crucial. Not having anybody on your side makes you easy prey.

  3. Carborendum
    June 8, 2009 at 7:49 pm #

    Not that I’m selfish, but my brother’s neighbor was already threatened that they’d come to her house and go after her food storage in an emergency.

    Here are some stories from my life:

    I had a friend that said if anyone came to his house to take his food storage, he would just add them to it. (He was dead serious).

    Another man said that his neighbor indicated he would always be nice to a Mormon neighbor because if the SHTF, he knows where he can go for food.

    A Sunday school teacher going over a lesson on food storage talked about providing for others. His position was that the year’s supply of food commandment was not just for your family to eat for a year, but for your family and many neighbors to eat for a month. I don’t recall seeing that in the manual.

    In the book “Coming of the Lord”, Lund describes conditions when the United States is no more. It reminded me of Katrina, except it will be like that all over the place. But his admonition/advice/command is to stay with the stakes of Zion. There you will find protection.

    I have often wondered about this for the same reasons that have been brought up here. Geography, protection, etc. How can a large group be effective if spread out over a large geographic area? There needs to be some kind of perimeter. If there is no fuel supply, we will not be able to get around as easily. We need to stick together geographically as well as spiritually.

    So how will the stakes provide safety when pretty much anywhere outside of Utah, a stake covers such a large geographic area that it would annul such group strength.

    The answer is simple.

    I don’t know.

    So instead, I keep my mind on another piece of advice from a wisened friend. “The Lord wants you to stand in Holy places so that when He’s about to strike with lightning, you won’t get hit.”

    I’ve often wondered about how to keep my family safe when we live in a world where pregnant women are being cut open to steal babies from. How do you deal with an issue like food storage with moral dilemmas such as the ones presented here?

    We just keep trying, thinking, hoping, and preparing. We keep praying that the Lord will provide an obvious answer as the situations present themselves.

  4. Preparedness Pro
    June 9, 2009 at 9:03 am #

    Connor, this is an excellent post. I truly believe that strength lies in banding together, in pooling our strengths and resources. If roaming gangs were to happen upon a well armed fortress, do you think they’d try to attack us? They look for easy targets. And like you said, people who stay alone make for easy targets. As a preparedness fiend, I have many friends who assume they’ll just come to my house when the SHTF. Honestly, I’m more likely to welcome someone into my home who has made efforts to prepare themselves and their families than someone who just assumes they can head over to my place and help themselves. While I am not averse to sharing, I am entitled to share with whom I choose. http://tinyurl.com/onan6z

  5. Russ
    June 9, 2009 at 11:59 am #

    I just returned from a 4 day trip to a very large city, and I have to wonder what things will really be like there when a disaster occurs that cuts of water or electricity or other items like food.

    There are just too many people in this small vicinity for chaos to not ensue.

  6. David
    June 9, 2009 at 1:16 pm #

    Believe it or not, the LDS don’t have a monopoly on preparedness. I have attended training through my local city on this topic for CERT (see http://www.citizencorps.gov/cert/). This is a national program with trained professionals willing to train you to assist the locale police and fire to handle emergencies in your neighborhood.

    If you get involved in CERT, you will immediately have a non-denominational source for discussing preparedness with your neighbors. It hardly touches the topics of food storage, but focuses primarily on being a first responder for disasters in your area. Helping your neighborhood look out for each other in all areas (including food storage and security) is a natural evolution of this program.

  7. Connor
    June 9, 2009 at 1:22 pm #

    Good point, David. I was trained a couple of years ago for CERT and agree with your recommendation.

  8. philippian
    June 22, 2009 at 8:28 pm #

    Donne and Jesus were wrong, let me assure you. Since some 80% of the systems you live under today were invented, created by people that have Asperger’s disorder, the idea that a group is needed to thrive is utterly untrue. It can help but is not required.

    If you don’t know Asperger’s is a form of functional autism characterized by the person’s rather lacking social skills, and a completely different view of the world, one often encompassed within the self and having all too little to do with those other folks around the Asperger’s person. The type often does well alone, and does not function with any great success in groups. In fact most find the social structure required of humans following each other in their ways and habits to be mostly a distraction. cheers, and thank the oddballs for your comfortable existance.

  9. Carborendum
    June 23, 2009 at 12:35 pm #

    Philipian, If you believe this, you must not have many friends.

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