Improve Your Chances By Enhancing The Skills Of Those Around You.
I really hate labels. Labels have a tendency to give people generalized views and often, erroneous assumptions.
Take the word, “prepper.” What is a “prepper” anyway? And, how about a “survivalist”? These two words mean different things to different people. Both carry connotations, often negative for some who hear them, and can promote an “us-against-them” mentality.
So, what do they mean, and how can we drop those divisive labels and work with others inside and outside “the community”?
Prepper vs. Survivalist
Merriam-Webster defines a “prepper” as “a person who gathers materials and makes plans in preparation for surviving a major disaster or cataclysm (such as worldwide economic collapse or war).”
Going by this definition, if you stock up on extra food and fuel in the days prior to a hurricane, plot an escape route in case of a wildfire or have a supply of sandbags in preparation for a flood, you’re a prepper.
To many people, “prepper” stirs up images of fortified underground bunkers, caches of weapons and people who’ve watched way too many episodes of The Walking Dead or Mad Max.
This image, which has been endorsed by some who claim to be part of the prepper community, has helped fuel its negative stigma. In actuality, true “preppers” are nothing like this.
“Survivalist” pre-dates the term “prepper” and is another word that’s been stigmatized. Again, ask people what a “survivalist” is, and they will describe a person or group living out in the woods, eating tree bark and wearing animal skins. Having lots of guns and ammunition is also part of the common assumption when this label is used.
Once again, I turned to Merriam-Webster for its definition. A “survivalist” is defined there as “a person who advocates or practices survivalism; especially: one who has prepared to survive in the anarchy of an anticipated breakdown of society.”
I don’t need to turn to the dictionary to define “survivalism.” Simply put, it’s the act of staying alive. I hope we’re all survivors.
Drop the Stigmas and Stereotypes
I’ve been following the teachings of my Native American ancestors, as well as a host of other people, my entire life. Preparing for tough times (drought, storms, sickness and other challenges) has always been a way of life for me. Does that make me a prepper? I guess it does, although I never labeled myself as such.
“Remember: Prepared people are less dangerous. (recall the old saying: ‘Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish, and you feed him for lifetime.’ There’s a great deal of truth to this statement.)”
When it comes to being a survivalist, aren’t we all survivalists? I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have the drive to stay alive. I utilize a multitude of resources to keep my family fed and safe. I don’t eat tree bark or wear animal skins, because I plan and execute better than that. I hunt, fish and forage. I grow some of my own food and often barter for those items I can’t provide on my own. I conserve and reuse resources whenever I can. This is what being a survivalist is all about.
As my ancestors did, I freely share what I know with others. Those of us who have useful knowledge need to take the lead and teach those who don’t. Will everyone listen? Heck, no; but we have to be a ready resource for those who will. After all, if we don’t, who will?
Today, we live in a world in which people like to polarize themselves. The thinking seems to be, “If I don’t agree with you, then I can’t (or won’t) work with, and learn from, you.”
“Those in the prepper community tend to play their cards close to the vest. They don’t go around boasting about how much they have stocked away or how they plan on defending what they have if the need arises.”
This isn’t the way it ought to be. No two people are ever going to see eye to eye on everything, but we all have the drive to survive, and all of us can learn from each other. My father often said, “As long as you have one apple and two people, you’ll have a disagreement.”
Work out the disagreement, even if you have to agree to disagree. Then, move on.
We currently face a worldwide pandemic, climate change, overpopulation and food shortages. Add to that increased drought, forest fires and more frequent, more severe storms than we’ve had in the past. And, don’t forget all the wars over political, ethnic, racial and religious differences. Let’s face it: We’re in a world of hurt, and there’s no time like the present to work together and do what’s best for all of us.
Long ago, people all over the world knew that in order to survive, their group needed to work together and leverage each person’s strengths and expertise. Not everyone was an expert farmer or hunter; not everyone was adept at making tools and weapons. But everyone had something to offer. This is how we must act today and work together.
“Long ago, people all over the world knew that in order to survive, their group needed to work together and leverage each person’s strengths and expertise…This is how we must act today and work together.”
“Preppers” and “survivalists”—if that’s how you identify yourself—must be willing to teach others with no prepping and survival skills what they should know to increase their level of self-reliance and readiness for emergencies. Who knows how to do this better than those of us who live that life?
The Fear of Being Compromised
Those in the prepper community tend to play their cards close to the vest. They don’t go around boasting about how much they have stocked away or how they plan on defending what they have if the need arises. This is because doing so puts their lives and the lives of their families in jeopardy from those who would rather take than work. There have always been people such as this, and there always will be, but that doesn’t mean we can’t share knowledge with those who really want to learn.
The good news is that we generally know who our threats are: They’re the ones who talk a good story. They brag about how much gear they have, often including in their boasts their weapons and ammunition. They’re the ones who have no idea about blending in. In some cases, you see them doing their grocery shopping dressed in full camo and complete with a sidearm strapped on their hip, seemingly looking for a confrontation.
Occasionally, these folks want to be noticed—probably to ensure that other people see, and might be intimidated by, them—something most of us don’t want. Many of us carry firearms. (I have a concealed-carry permit but don’t flash my firearm, because I don’t want to draw attention to myself.) The “attention” they get might not be what they bargained for because their actions make them targets if something does go down.
In the spirit of sharing knowledge and experience, and under the right circumstances, you might be able to advise these folks to take their public displays down a notch (if possible) for their own well-being. Otherwise, keep your family and yourself safer by staying away from these people. They often have no clue about how they’re perceived by others. And, in fact, when the SHTF, they might be the first ones at your doorstep, looking to take what you’ve stored, because they weren’t making appropriate preparations.
As a writer for numerous publications, I put myself out there every day. The readers all know I’m prepared to survive, whatever comes my way. Have I compromised myself? Yes, to a certain extent, but I do it because I believe in what I do. Trust me: It isn’t for the money! Rather, my reward is in the opportunity to share useful information. Education and information are power—power over the adversity that we face or will face. We all have something to offer those who are less informed.
Does teaching someone how to shoot, hunt, fish, grow food or raise livestock threaten your family’s safety? How about teaching them how to prepare for storms or emergencies? No, it doesn’t. On the contrary; it might help ensure it: That person you teach is now someone who’s not a threat, because they have the skills to provide for themselves. They might even become a friend you can count on when you need help.
To give you an example, I’m friends with Christopher Nyerges, Kevin Estela, Jim Cobb, Joshua Swanagon and other writers in this community. We all compete for the limited space in magazines but, as friends, we’re willing to share our “expertise”—not only with the readers, but also with each other. Sharing information doesn’t compromise any of us and makes us all better in the end.
It can be the same with you. Sharing what you know doesn’t have to compromise your situation.
Teaching others doesn’t have to be limited to food-gathering skills. For instance, I really stink at small-engine repair, welding and a host of other things—all important things to know—and there are people in the prepper community who are experts at it. If you’re one of those people, teach those skills to others who want to learn. Your students don’t even need to know you’re a “prepper” unless you want them to.
The question now is, Where do you start? There are untold numbers of people who want to learn, as evidenced by the growth in the interest in prepping since the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
How do you find these people? Start by approaching the types of organizations that are already working with interested people (see the “Get Involved” sidebar below).
Contact these organizations and explain what you have to offer and how you’d like to share it. Volunteer to give a class or two, and word will get out. Adult education programs are always looking for people to give talks and seminars. Some will even pay you for your time.
Even so, while getting paid is nice, it shouldn’t be your motivating factor. You should be driven by the fact that you’re helping others and simultaneously reducing potential threats to your own safety.
Remember: Prepared people are less dangerous. (Recall the old saying: “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish, and you feed him for lifetime.” There’s a great deal of truth to this statement.)
The world is being ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our economy is in a world of hurt. There are protests bubbling up all over the place. And, at this writing, I can only guess at the aftermath of the November election.
Now, more than ever, we need to pull together as one people if all of us are going to survive. We need to drop the “us-versus-them” attitude. We need to share our knowledge instead of withholding it.
There are many opportunities to share the skills that we know. Here are just a few:
American Red Cross
Boy Scouts of America
Community Emergency Response Team (CERT)
Community Supported Agriculture
Girl Scouts of America
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the January, 2020 print issue of American Survival Guide.