We would all like to think we are a good judge of character and some of us also pride ourselves on good intuition in sizing up people. So when we decide to accept someone as a friend, or survival group member, we tend to ignore the little warning signs that might point to nascent problems with the new friend or recruit. Acknowledging the developing problem can mean acknowledging that we made a mistake in trusting the person.
If one suddenly discovers that Mr./Ms. Right has a few annoying personal habits, no big material loss though the social machinations involved in rectifying the situation can be embarrassing or stressful. But if one suddenly discovers that a member of the survival group has blabbed to the world your defensive layout and supply inventory just post-disaster, you or other group members could pay with your life for the member's indiscretion.
People behave the way they do socially because of many factors. This can add “some spice to life” or it can result in serious conflicts maybe even death of one of the parties involved. Some people are Machiavellian, others lack common social skills and compensate with an over emphasis on factual information, still others are guided by their religious beliefs primarily in social interactions for better or worse.
In times of crisis, people's social styles can become more exaggerated or they may drop into a primal individual survival at all costs approach. Even in “baseline stress” times such people can be dangerous to you and the group as they can carry information you confided in them to outsiders who can endanger you and your group in time of real crisis.
Imagine having a group member who has not been contributing much in the way of labor or resources during normal times preparation. Now imagine you or the group “voting” the problem person out. The slacker takes exception to this and goes to great lengths to make sure everyone in town knows that your group has a large supply of goodies to “share” in time of disaster. Maybe the person is also vindictive and goes to the local police or the ATF with “information” about your “hate group” and its cache of “illegal weapons”. You and the members of your group are now in a hard position through no real fault of your own.
How to protect yourself in choice of group members? Common sense is still safeguard number one. Do the person's words and deeds match up reasonably well. For example,if all agree to help with caching firewood, does the person do their share, within any obligations or restrictions they may have? If the person claims prior military experience, do they demonstrate a good grasp of basics such as physical security in conversation and in the "field"?
If your group has members of varied religious or ethnic background, does the person's language and behavior toward the various group members appear respectful and do they appear capable of cooperating with those who don't agree with them or look like them? Does a cursory check of the person's background and “introduction story” match? Or does the person appear to be a mere “survivalist poseur” or, worst of all, an agent provocateur or potential “confidential informant”?
Operational security is as important to the individual survivalist, or group, as it is to the police or military unit on campaign. Always be wary of what you tell someone. Always be careful of expressing your plans or your personal ideology to someone else for you might hear them narrated into the court record some day with you in the docket. Thoroughly research new survival friends or group recruits. This will go a long ways toward preventing entanglements with those too mentally ill to cooperate. “plants”, and those whose lack of work ethic is coupled with disruptive manipulative or Machiavellian dreams.
It is human nature to give more weight to the statements of those we have known for a long time or to members of our primary family or birth family. But even here danger lurks. Just because you have known someone for twenty years does not magically mean that they always speak the truth. Soap operas run for years based on deceit by intimates. I know from personal experience that family members or long-term friends can lie if it will give them a crucial advantage in a stressful situation.
Imagine the damage in a SHTF disaster when one group member tells a lie to cover an error they made, blaming a newer member. In a situation where you must all cooperate to literally live, the snake has entered your Garden. Discord has been sown because you will probably believe your long-term friend over the “newcomer”. Trust goes down the hydro flusher, group efficiency falls when you can all least afford it, survivability goes down.
Beware when one group member complains to you, sub rosa, about another group member. Keeping confidences, is one thing but in this case you need to analyze the social dynamics which lead to this quasi-gossip and work together to eliminate this incipient problem. Those who work in business know this lesson instinctively; when a problem arises, the marketing department's spin is of less use than getting engineering and the impacted parties together to work out a real, practical solution.
And you must strive to ensure that lines of communication stay open always for rumor and morbid speculation thrive when truth is not exchanged. The classic example is the call to Tech Support. The Support person runs through a problem solving algorithm, the caller resents the highly structured communication (“stupid”, “talking down to me”). The Support person resents the “stupidity” of the end user (“luser”) because the Support person cannot understand that the end user only wants to get their work done, not tinker with arcane configuration files for an hour (as the Support person would do if they were the one with the software issue). No communication possible here if both parties don't truly try to see things from the other's perspective.
The same applies, when lives not software, are at stake, in survival group interpersonal interactions. This resource, though written from a military perspective, can help the survival group coordinator assist group members in good interaction both before and during a disaster. Chapters 3 and 6 are on point for survivalists.
More on this subject in a future post. Study hard, train hard, survive easier.