Man Vs. Mind

18 07 2007

Bear Grylles

By Jill Ettinger

In the movie Thank You For Smoking, Academy of Tobacco Studies Vice President Nick Naylor testifies before Senate about the responsibility of human decision-making, regardless of the harm evident in smoking tobacco. His point is uncomfortably valid. After all, this is a nation founded on the right to make money, lots of it, and without apology.

When people sue McDonald’s because they claim an inability to stop themselves from eating Big Macs, allowing disease and obesity to overtake them, is that really a fault that can be absolutely proven to belong to the corporation? Do we humans have no self-restraint? What about Morgan Spurlock, who made the documentary Super Size Me, where he lived only on McDonald’s food for 30 days? He put himself through an onslaught of incredibly disgusting unHappy Meals; his body showed obvious strains as a result, but at day 30, he ended the experiment with no regrets, point proven and moved past. Where does industry become directly responsible for our actions, our decisions and choices? Which of us control our own destiny?

Certainly we live in a world where many of us have far too much access to things that are bad for us. But as intelligent creatures, we have to talk ourselves into those situations, and just in the same way we can talk ourselves out of them.

If you’ve watched the Discovery Channel’s “Man Vs Wild,” starring Bear Grylles, you’ve seen the indomitable human will to survive. Grylles served in the British special forces, and was the youngest Brit to ever climb Everest at age 23, on the heels of recovering from breaking his back while skydiving in Africa. Week after week, Grylles voluntarily drops himself into the world’s harshest environments with only the clothes on his back – and, sometimes a knife and water bottle – to demonstrate the many ways to survive. What is so important about this show, amidst a sea of mindless programming, is the truly practical application. Life, no matter what our immediate environment, is all about survival. Granted, Grylles makes this look incredibly easy, but after watching a few episodes, something clicks that makes you realize, it is easy. We are not aliens to this planet; we are born of it, and once the Dunkin-haze fades, we see that more clearly. When one starts to apply the methods of working with their environment rather than against it, instincts guide and protect us. With a little education and common sense, we can approach each situation knowing what the likely predators and dangers are, and prepare for their arrival.

Though it no doubt helps to have years of specialized training as Grylles does, the truth is we need very little to survive. Just look at three key factors: food, shelter and love. Food is a lot easier than we’ve made it. Science keeps proving that caloric restriction extends life, whereas gorging on Mcanything will likely have the opposite effect. Grylles, while walking for days in harsh climates, usually eats very little (if at all), yet he’s able to hike mountains, build structures, pull himself out of frozen lakes and quicksand and find his way back to civilization in under five days. Protein, fat, carbohydrates are essential for optimal body functioning, but met with simplicity, rather than decadence, they become more a tool to survive than a reason for living. But somehow Americans get caught between vending machines and the late night window at Taco Bell, and have to convince ourselves otherwise. We allow body to rule the mind; false hunger pervades priorities.

According to John Robbins’ book The Food Revolution, there are as many people dying from malnutrition through starvation as there are through obesity. It’s totally mind-blowing. People are eating themselves to death while others have nothing to eat. Americans claim they don’t have access to healthy food, yet organic makes up less than 3% our total U.S. supply, and we have the ability to meet much larger demands unlike previously thought. Not only can America get onto healthy foods, but the world can  have access to better quality farming methods.

Shelter, like food, has become less about necessity and more about identity. Zip codes, dress sizes, horse power – these numbers matter more than the number of raindrops that sneak into many beds every night around the world. Basic needs of the global tribe are overruled by greedy justification. It’s no wonder we have to stock houses full with mind-numbing foods and drugs that help us forget our wont for selfish security.

Which brings us to love. Maybe if it came before food or shelter – or anything else – we’d find ourselves with more of everything. Our tribe is over six billion now, and we cannot continue to pretend otherwise. We cannot kill in the name of gods or lines in the sand. Was it Einstein who said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results? What if we loved everyone today instead of seeing them as preventing us from … what, really? From our addictions?

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