What Makes Us Do The Things We Do?

I’ve just been watching 60 Minutes, and there’s currently a segment on retracing Ernest Shackleton’s footsteps.  A modern day Australian explorer is being interviewed about why he and his team recreated Shackleton’s journey using only the equipment, food and clothing available to Shackleton.  At one point the interviewer asks “If we were somewhere starving, would you eat me? (sic) The interviewee responds with “Yes.”

I’ve always loved reading about explorers and adventurers, but over the years I’ve been challenged to think about the motivations behind some of our modern day adventurers. 

A few personal confessions first.  For years I lived in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.  While there, I was a volunteer fire fighter and then SES volunteer.  Apart from a genuine desire to help others, I can’t deny that I enjoyed (and still do) the thrill of a physical and personal challenge.   The adrenalin kick that you experience when crawling into a burning building, or hitting the siren on the fire truck, or when you’re paused at the top of a massive cliff face is at least part of the reason that I did some of those things.

Having got all of that off my chest, I’ll continue with this post!

I’ve read a number of books written by mountain climbers, such as Jon Krakauer, Anatoli Boukreev and Joe Simpson.  As an adolescent, I read Thor Heyerdahl’s Aku Aku and Kontiki and Ra Expedition books.  The story of the pioneer, climber or adventurer has long piqued my imagination.  What has also struck me is the motivations that drive such people.

As I listened to our modern explorer state that death was more acceptable than failure, I struggled to understand the mind that thinks that way.  I can easily imagine someone dying to save a child, or when a moral principle is challenged (think Romans and early Christians), but to risk death rather than use easily available technology to build in safeguards, really challenged my understanding of why and how.

I like adrenalin fuelled stuff, but I like my adrenalin tempered by safeguards.  

I, personally, can’t imagine risking my life for what I would describe as “unacceptable risk.”  As an author, I’m about to (sorry!) maim and kill a number of my much loved characters, but they are in the course of attempting to save their people from the invading aliens, so I suppose you can easily see what drives my ideas of appropriate motivators.

When I hear of yet another round the world yachtsman needing rescue at great expense, or mountain climbers walking past their stranded and dying compatriots, my mind struggles with the concept that says that personal goals are more important than other people.  I do admire the spirit that sends people adventuring, pushing themselves physically, challenging themselves mentally to continue when others might simply quit, but my admiration is tempered with the stark reality of the real risks to the rescuer.

At the same time, I also struggle with the concept of helicopter parenting, or risk managing children and young people so much that they never experience what it is to achieve against fear and fatigue.  Perhaps that’s why extreme sports are now on the rise, and why so many of our young people risk take with alcohol and drugs.  Perhaps we’ve cotton wooled so much that we’ve stunted their growth.

These are things we should think on.  Things that we should explore.  It’s only when we consider what might be that we learn what could be.

And here I’ve written yet another “What I’m thinking post.”  Sorry!

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