Taking a Ride with Born Survivor Bear Grylls
For the uninitiated, Bear Grylls is not the most conventional man in the world.
An ex-Eton student, he climbed his first cliff at 8 years old, broke his back during SAS training in 1996, and went on to conquering Mount Everest soon after at the age of 23. Nowadays, Grylls is famous for sending average citizens (as well as the occasional President) to remote islands to test out their survival skills in the harshest climates.
Other than his conquest to force celebrities to survive on bugs and sleep in animal carcasses, Grylls is also a keen environmentalist, choosing to carry out some of his expeditions to help promote a greater consciousness of the changing world of nature. So what can we learn from an adventurer who has slept inside a dead camel, has eaten raw zebra carcass, and has squeezed water from elephant poop to survive in the wild?
To those adapting to a crisis situation, Bear Grylls will tell you to stay calm because, as he puts it,
“Panic never helps you. I’ve learned from experience: You thrive when you keep calm in a crisis... You want the person who’s going to make you a cup of tea first.”
Fine advice, whether you’re negotiating or have just been dropped into the wilderness with only the clothes on your back.
Calm is key when adapting to situations.
“The instinct when something goes wrong is blind panic. Just stop. Step back. Breathe. Time spent in preparation is good time. Sometimes you need to make a split decision one way or the other. But if your life is going to depend on it, take an extra five seconds and look at it. Think things through.”
Again, good advice for anyone take onboard, particularly in high-stress environments. There is a tendency to view work objectively in the heat of the moment. Grylls' advice, when taken and applied, can help a diplomat take a step back, remember the people their work directly affects and then re-analyse.
For parts of the year, Grylls lives on a small remote Welsh island with his young family, where there is no main electricity or running water. The island is powered by a small wind turbine and water is collected off the roof when it rains. He does so to show his family and followers an alternative lifestyle when it comes to power and energy: “If we are to have a world worth handing on to our children,” he says, “we must have the courage to look beyond oil and conventional fossil fuelled power solutions.”
By exposing not only his own family, but also members of the public, to a life without the benefits of power derived from fossil fuels, Bear teaches the importance and fragility of modern life, and how easy it is to replace those fossil fuels with more sustainable alternatives.
Examples of Grylls' route for alternative energy solutions are highlighted in his many around-the-world expeditions in the harshest climates. He goes on to admit that: “Our expedition won’t save the world, (far from it, we are still flying in commercial airlines to get down there in the first place), but it might encourage people to explore the potential of other alternative energy industries.”
His energy dream is to reach second and third-generation biofuels which, in layman’s terms, means power and energy from residues, rubbish and household waste. Through his tours and expeditions, Grylls is a strong believer of leading and doing things for yourself. Survival aside, this is an important lesson for any diplomat. It’s a message full of self-empowerment rather than reliance on others and it's a message, Grylls believes, that is increasingly popular amongst younger members of society.
“I can go into any tough council estate anywhere, UK, America, China, no protection, and I can high-five these kids because they dig our stuff. Cameron can’t do that. Obama can’t. It is possible to have a positive influence without becoming prime minister. You can talk about values, friends and family and how to keep them close. Get out and explore the world, live life boldly: say that to kids and you see them come alive.”
Grylls’ message of adventure combined with self-reliance is popular and its message can be bought into the sphere of public policy. His vision chimes particularly well with young people from poor backgrounds. Why? Because these citizens are eager to pull themselves up, rather than remain reliant on mechanisms trying to lift them up. This is true grassroots diplomacy: handing the fate of