Self-preservation for the Crafty

Can you plan on self-preservation? Yes! Self-preservation is defined as an ‘instinct.’ An instinct is an innate behavior that is inherent in all living organisms including humans. Self-preservation is unavoidable. When considering the reasons why people make one choice over another, it often comes down to either a conscious or unconscious attempt to simply live—a mission that is built-in to our psyches by millions of years of evolution.

Modern self-preservation is complicated… Self-preservation is the result of how we deal with pain, discomfort, or fear. It is what provides us with adrenaline (a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands in times of stress) needed to respond to stressful situations. But in a modern sense, it has come to mean the coping mechanism we depend on for daily functioning. The chronic anxiety and constant conflicts that most of us live with every day still cause us to experience the physical manifestations of stress—but we are denied the basic release of either fighting or running. We are civilized, so we cope the best we can, which sometimes amounts to little more than quiet seething. Self-preservation is a lot more abstract and complex than it used to be. But we all still have it.

Self-preservation serves all kinds of personalities… Self-preservation accommodates all types of behaviors. Whether indulging in violence or leading a mundane, mind-numbing existence, most humans are trying to carry on. Self-preservation is neither good nor bad, it chooses no sides—bad people have as strong a sense of it as good people. For the sake of my fragile self-preservation instinct, I prefer to think karma will eventually catch up with all the assholes of the world, and that someday they will have to face the consequences of their actions.

Self-preservation and the circle of life… One of the main reasons for a strong self-preservation instinct in all animals is the need to procreate. In many species the passing on of genes is the only reason to live at all, as the parents die soon afterward. Citizens of countries where freedom is not an option have their own forms of self-preservation, because life certainly goes on no matter how much it sucks.

Believe it or not, those of us who have chosen not to reproduce also have a self-preservation instinct! And people who care for animals have a strong sense of it as well. To understand your own significance, think of those who depend on you.

The mystery of religion Religion is a form of self-preservation, as it allows belief in the unbelievable and this seems to give humans comfort. Religion is a huge factor in world behaviors, but in terms of evolution, I don’t understand the draw. It’s like something a baby human might believe but would be expected to grow out of as an adult, as it seems so anti-evolutionary. It’s OK to have some mystery; we don’t have to know everything. Mystery leaves us stuff to think about and discuss among ourselves. Mystery is inspiring. Skepticism is growth.

Adversity Adversity is useful because it produces the adrenaline that enables us to find the strength we didn’t know we had. But we can just as easily be knocked on our asses by life’s shifty swindles and end up in bed for the next two years sobbing uncontrollably and staggering around on autopilot. Or, become angry and lash out at people trying to help. But I believe that whatever our choices, we are coping in our own way and fashioning our own personalized program of self-preservation.

What about self-destruction, which seems just as commonplace and powerful as self preservation? I know there is a tipping point where the sense of self-preservation becomes diseased…sometimes life is unkind to the point where giving up seems like the only recourse. But self-preservation works in mysterious ways…try to have a shred of faith even when you have none. When there’s no spark in your psyche it’s OK to use the dying embers of your sense of self-preservation to simply hang on.  As weak as it seems, the lifeforce of your self-preservation is there. Ride it out. Things change. You change. You can move on, move out, or rent a U-Haul and move across country. Sometimes it takes a long time.

Self-preservation is good for your world Self-preservation isn’t so much about having a plan than it is something we can plan on having. Sometimes obstacles surface that are impossible to overcome so you have to choose what hurts the least. Allowing yourself some flexibility and taking time to repair and maintain our “selves” isn’t selfishness, it’s our responsibility. Self-preservation is logical and practical and useful because the life we lead is connected to all the other lives we’re in contact with in a million ways; and when you enhance your own life, it touches everyone into whose orbit you come. It’s kind of basic…but you will need that sense of self-preservation (that you already have).

Since our species is empowered with the gift of reason, doesn’t it seem almost obligatory to be aware of and take inventory of our mental and physical surroundings? Isn’t it a good idea to make a lifelong habit of being mindful of the preservation of you? What could be more important?

3 responses to “Self-preservation for the Crafty

  1. I believe that if more men and women would put up the fight to the torment that surrounds them, they would at least rest in the evening that they have tried. To not preserve the self and others you think worthy is cowardly and what is of value will not survive in this world. Better to take an enemy down with you than stand there and let them strike at your heart without fighting back. Debra, I know we pick our battles and not every conflict is worth a fight, but some are worth the effort. If your place is unsecured, then pick up and move as you so rightly and eloquently wrote. Put your gear together and strike out. You remind me in many ways of my family that fought and struck against injustice, against the impersonal corporation and absentee landlords that would have ground us down to our knees. To the very last, my close kin worked and used politics to try and set things right. And, when they could not preserve their independence, they called me to help them to the hospital and in a month, passed on. At their funeral, many people said, without reproach, my family was the toughest family they had ever known. They preserved themselves and those that they loved and principles they held high. And, at the end of the day, some of that bled off on me. We will take our time to heal as you say, and then we shall rush to the sound of battle.

    I have read your post several times because it is deep and I wanted to see what it would stir up in me. Well, it stirred something up. This is the best blog post you have composed lately (they are all good). I am surprised no one else has seen fit to write a comment.

  2. How I wish people around the world, especially women, would fight back.

    I was hoping to get some different perspectives as well, especially since I am fascinated by people who are near to giving up but manage to carry on. It may be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. When I think back on times when my own grip was tenuous, it had to be a sense of self-preservation that got me through. Maybe if we were more conscious of it, it would help us be more flexible and resilient. Or maybe we’re better off flying blind, I don’t know but wish I did. I’m just an amateur myself.

    From what I have read the toughness of your family is legendary in Texas. It was actually one of your posts that inspired me to read about self-preservation and try to make some sense of this mysterious instinct.

    Your family’s stoicism struck a nerve because it’s an outlook on life I respect. It may seem numbing but it’s not, it’s survival. The original stoics didn’t want to suppress passion, they wanted to control it.

    I love that Henry Ford quote “don’t complain, don’t explain.” There are times in life when that is the most practical philosophy there is. I aspire to it wholeheartedly as I’m bouncing off the walls kicking and screaming.

    Thanks for writing, cowboy.

    • You sure are a steel woman, D. Such brilliant insight into the subject. I haven’t had a hard life, so I can only admire the courage and honesty you got (and hats off to Mr. Jack and his brave family).

      What I especially liked is: “Self-preservation is neither good nor bad, it chooses no sides.” It speaks a lot about our world today — this is a realistic statement. Most men are trying to cope — we aren’t really living. But isn’t this self-preservation being directed in wrong ways: instead of striving honestly, most people have come to understand it as “me first”, “my family first, the world can go to hell’ — isn’t the breakdown of our social, economic machinery a result of this misunderstood self-preservation?

      But was the past any different? Were there enough brave, principled men or was it the same ruthless killing that we see today? Is Mr. Jack and his family an exception? Or were they a people of a bygone era who believed that “self-preservation” didn’t mean “neighbor-killing”, for that is not the world I see today.

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