What 6 shipwrecked teenagers can teach us about surviving harmoniously in a crisis.

“He found himself understanding the wearisomeness of this life, where every path was an improvisation and a considerable part of one's waking life was spent watching one's feet.” William Golding; Lord of the Flies.

This quote from Lord of the Flies could well describe our current circumstance. Every path is an improvisation as we try out new ways of living as safely as possible with the virus. Watching our step as we head outside, always conscious of our 2m distancing. Weary from the worry.

Of course there’s a huge difference between our current existence and that of the school boys marooned on a desert island in William Golding’s 1954 book, Lord of the Flies,. But, there are lessons that we can draw on.

Sensing a change in our world order with the onset of the virus there was the panic buying of basic necessities - the need to fulfil our body’s physical survival (although there are no accounts in the media of anyone sustaining on stockpiled toilet roll!). 

Satisfied with our hordes of pasta and tinned goods we awaited announcements from the government about how else we would be affected. Our new rules confined us to our homes, changing the ways we live and work, but with the impression of this lasting for a relatively short duration. Phew.

But this week, the reality of the virus’s longevity and the ongoing impact this will make to our lives has been subtly introduced in the media. 

And here we are, on our own desert island without hope of rescue (that’s not entirely true, vaccine’s are in the making if not yet ready!). 

If you have read the Lord of the Flies, you’ll know that the marooned boys quickly establish a need for order, civility and responsibility for survival. For those of you in busy households, Golding’s idea of ‘the talking conch’ to allow each member a chance to be heard isn’t a bad idea at all!

Golding, however, told a sad story of societal breakdown which it turns out isn’t quite what happens in a real life example.  Author Rutger Bregman discovered the real life story of six boys from Tonga who, in 1977 found themselves shipwrecked for over 15 months.

After their rescue they shared their story of survival, how they managed their physical needs and even medical emergencies when one boy broke his leg on the island. 

The story of the real Lord of the Flies shares a much more heartwarming tale of community, one that shows how much stronger we are if we can lean on each other. 

Once we have satisfied our basic human needs for food and safety, finding psychological safety and wellbeing is vital for survival. 

The Tonga boys set simple rules for sustaining their physical wellbeing and set a hugely important rule for community - to never quarrel. That’s not to say they didn’t disagree, but these teenaged boys understood that harmonious living was critical. 

The boy’s rescuer, Peter Wagner wrote of his learnings from his experience with the boys in his memoirs: “Life has taught me a great deal, including the lesson that you should always look for what is good and positive in a person.” 

You can read more about the boy’s story in these two articles.

What happened when 6 boys were shipwrecked for over 15 months.

Real life Lord of the Flies survivor story.


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