The Most Important Question is – WHAT

 The Most Important Question is – WHAT

 by Harry


Many survival and planning articles are written with a fine attention to detail; whether concerning a particular issue such as long term food storage or more broadly based such as how to lay out a garden for 4 people.  The following is more philosophical and asks you to consider your life expectations and needs as a whole.


If you have ever taken a course in journalism, you learn to ask the Five W’s followed by the lonely H – Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.  In order to submit a complete story for publication each of these simple questions should have an answer which is straightforward and factual, though that later requirement seems to be slipping as of late.  Hermagoras of Temnos (1st Century Greek rhetorician) defined seven “circumstances” (actually, elements of circumstance) as the focal points (loci or places of information) of any issue.  Personally, I learned these circumstances as “quis, quid, quando, ubi, cur, quem ad modum, quibus adminiculis”, though we would now think of them as who, what, when, where, why, in what way, and by what means.  Taking simple rhetoric to a whole new level, Boethius (6th Century Philosopher) made these seven circumstances fundamental to any legal prosecution or defense (leave it to a lawyer to muck up a simple concept).  The Five W’s where refined into today’s format by a Professor William Wilkinson in the 19th Century as a method of Bible study rather than for any journalistic intent.  In 1902, Rudyard Kipling combined the Five W’s with the One H in the poem “The Elephant Child” published in his Just So Stories collection.  Hence, the Five W’s and the One H are now known as the Kipling Method of problem solving.


History aside, preppers are faced with solving a problem which has a multitude of possible circumstances with a near infinity of potential solutions.  The basics components of this problem at first seem elementary – you need stuff to promote your health and sanity (food, water, clothing, medicine, entertainment, and perhaps a warm, fuzzy teddy bear), a place to keep your stuff (tent, shed, house, cave, castle, bomb shelter), and a way to protect your stuff (knife, firearm, catapult, small tactical nuke).  Seems simple: make of list of all the things you think you will ever need for the rest of your life, erase about 90% of the list in order to make purchasing the remaining items feasible given your time and budget constraints, find a place to store this mound of potentially life saving goodies, and figure out a way to keep your family, friends, neighbors, and the local biker gang from helping themselves to your investment when you need it most.


So how does one use a 2,000 year old concept of rhetorical reasoning to solve the modern day problem preppers face to create a viable plan to preserve one’s life in a scenario of financial meltdown, societal collapse, government over reach, terrorist attack, and the invasion of the zombie cockroaches?  Simple, ask yourself the question of “WHAT”.


What do you realistically need to maintain your life?  Air, water, food, and shelter are obvious answers, but they are really too broad to do most people much good.  Make it easier by setting up a plan which focuses on preserving your life and life style in 3 steps.


First, plan on what you would do for the first 30 days (shorter or longer if it suits you, but this covers the time period for most natural disasters).  The intent of this plan is to maintain your current lifestyle with minimal changes.  Maybe you have to take a few cold showers or eat more canned food, maybe you have to walk the 3 miles to the store instead of drive, maybe you have to read or play games instead of going online for WoW or Medal of Honor; but, overall your life as you know it today will continue pretty much as it is now.


Second, what do you need to get through the first year (again, you could set this time period to 6 months or 3 years if it suits you)?  This scenario may include a job loss or significant income reduction (retiring and trying to live on SS may be a good example).  Now you will start to see some major changes in your life style – things will necessarily become simpler.  Again, the question is “What do you realistically need to maintain your life”?  So, if you had to live off whatever you have stored in your closets and under your bed, if you had to limit or eliminate power consumption, if you had to take care of severe injuries and illnesses without recourse to a doctor or hospital, what would you need?


Third, what do you need to get through the rest of your life?  This is where most folks get bogged down in trying to figure out how many calories they will need to survive the next 30 years, how many band aids and aspirin, how many tools, books, and candles, how many bullets, bore patches, and magazine springs; the task is simply impossible for anyone to grasp.  I don’t care how well you plan, how much money you spend, and how many warehouses you have, you will miss something (probably dozens of somethings).  So, do you try to hack a farm out of the wilderness and become a pioneer making everything with your own two hands, do you become a parasite and live off what you can beg or steal from others, do you hope some government or charity organization will have a cozy cot and three daily meals set aside just for you, or is there some other scenario you can fit into and make work for your particular circumstance?


Once you get the first two plans (30 days and 1 year) established and in place take a good hard look at what you really need to maintain your life (not life style, just your life) for the rest of your life.  It’s probably a lot less than you would think if you looked at it with the idea that you were going to maintain the 30 day plan for the next 30 years.  If you run through a tube of toothpaste every 3 months and you plan to live another 40 years you will require 160 tubes of toothpaste.  If that seems extreme it might be better to consider the possibility that in an extreme upheaval you will have to get by with cleaning your teeth every 2 or 3 days instead of 2 or 3 times per day.  You can drastically change your lifestyle in order to preserve your life – will it be fun, no; but it will allow you to keep breathing and irritating your children with tales of how much harder life was when you were a kid.


Based on the previous exercise, you now have a collection (or at least a shopping list) of stuff your sincerely believe is required for your particular circumstances.  So the next WHAT question is “what are you going to do with your stuff?”  Where do you put it?  How do you maintain this stash in a usable and accessible condition?  Do you plan to stay in place or relocate?  How much time will you have to pack and transport your goodies if you have to leave home?  There is no one answer to this question.  It will vary significantly from person to person and group to group.  However, planning on what to do with your stuff is every bit as important as determining what stuff you need.  You would be surprised how creative you can get insofar as storage is concerned.  We have over 200 #10 cans of freeze dried food stored under every bed in the house.  Four cases of #10 cans (6 cans to a case = 24 cans) will make a nice end table if you cover them with a cloth or even wall paper.  Open up the 20 super jumbo packs of toilet paper you have stored in the hall closet and place toothpaste, medicine bottles, spices, and other slim items in the paper tubes.  Place rolls of foil and plastic wrap in your underwear drawer and then put your clothes on top.  Put your thinking cap on, look for spaces which contain air, and fill them with stuff.


The final WHAT question is “at what point do you draw the line?”  You can put a load of ethical, moral, spiritual, and legal niceties on this issue, but the basic issue is – what are you willing to do to protect yourself, your family, and your stuff.  Again, this issue will vary from person to person and from situation to situation.  Are you willing to forego the pleasure of clean sheets, three meals a day, and hot showers to maintain your personal freedom in a closed society?  Are you willing to part with some of your stuff to help a family member, a neighbor, a complete stranger?  Are you willing to hurt or kill another human being to protect your stuff, your family, or yourself?


Police, EMT’s, Firemen, Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen train for 100’s and 1,000’s of hours to react to stressful situations with as little emotion or personal consideration as possible.  Notice I did not say they reacted without thinking or in a robotic fashion.  Sometimes that happens, but a well trained person and small unit has been acclimated to the possibility of certain conditions and events and the appropriate responses have been drilled into them to create a predictable and almost automatic response.  That’s simply training, not animal instinct.  They are still human and sometimes they fail in their mission because of this human condition.  That doesn’t make them bad people or even bad team members; it simply forces the remainder of their unit to pick up the pieces and continue with the mission as they were trained.  You and your group can do the same thing.  Make it a habit to plan and rehearse various situations to develop a trained response which meets your needs and your capabilities.  This will allow you to determine at what point you will stand your ground well before the situation arises which demands such action.


What stuff do you need, what will you do with your stuff, and what will you do to protect your stuff.  Sounds like a George Carlin sketch, but answering those simple questions will make it easier for you to prioritize your plans and put them into effective use.

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3 thoughts on “The Most Important Question is – WHAT”

  1. Harry, your article is likely the most useful thing I have ever read on diagramming a path to survival. It’s a books worth of big picture stuff, but incremental enough to keep from being overwhelmed. Thanks….

  2. Thanks JG. I know it’s not the type of detail one typically sees and that was the intent. I often meet folks who are trying to make plans for an uncertain future and they really can’t see the forest for the trees. They become so overwhelmed by the minutiae that they simply can’t move forward with any planning. Small steps are the generally best way to start any journey. Once you get some momentum built up then you can start to run.

    Thanks again for the positive comment.

  3. Harry, I really enjoyed your article. It seems to be one that could be used to encourage someone new to the idea of prepping without scaring them with tons of lists of “have to haves”. Will print it out and pass on to some who seem to have developed a curiosity about preparing for the future. Thank you.


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