BE PREPARED: Survival, lemons and not hanging on by a thread

When we reached the age of 13, a group of us joined Scouts Canada. At the time, the standard uniform was the RCMP or ‘Smokey the Bear’ hat  (we bought them at Eaton’s and blocked them ourselves), the regulation short pants and knee-high socks with garters, the utility belt, and the Lincoln green shirt with rolled-up sleeves. We bought those at Eaton’s, too.

Out of that experience came knot tying, first aid, the three-finger salute, shaking with the left hand, helping the elderly across the street, patrol leadership—and BE PREPARED.

Fast forward to the ice storm that crippled Toronto and much of Ontario during Christmas week. Although our lights never went out, I made a point of monitoring the 16 shimmering cables and 4 transformers attached to the utility pole across the street—frequently. Then when I could, I drove through several neighbourhoods that hadn’t fared quite as well as we had.

Those of us who live in the developed world are hanging on by a thread, a lifeline no thicker than the thickest of those cables. Let’s say 1.16 cm. Because of where I live, electricity is the only game in town. It’s 11 floors to the street. The emergency generator in our building can keep our 3 elevators in operation and move water heated by natural gas through the pipes and up 12 storeys. But not indefinitely.

The experience was a sobering reminder—not as chilling for us as it was for others—that we have to teach ourselves how to survive if that lifeline ever fails. But it’s not the only lifeline we all have to pay attention to: there’s the one that connects us to our income, and they’ve been breaking a lot lately. Or not being attached at all.

Parents still believe that they can weave safety nets out of diplomas for their children, some at considerable financial and emotional cost. To be of any practical value, those threads have to be attached to something. Many of our young people either (a) don’t know what that something is; (b) are convinced that they do but haven’t found it yet; or (c) are convinced that they do but haven’t discovered or won’t accept that it doesn’t exist and may not for some time—if ever.

Survival of the fittest is often incorrectly associated with physical strength. It isn’t. It’s about being able to adapt, which is as much about brain as brawn. It’s always been a function of what you do with what you’ve got, and it still is. Or if you prefer, “When all you have is lemons, make lemonade.”

The good news: lemons aren’t all we have. The better news: there are and always will be viable substitutes. But you’ll have to work at finding them. The economy is in unknown territory. Do you know how safe your current or future job really is? How well do you understand what the economy is up to, where it’s heading and how that will impact on you?

Don’t expect to find the world you thought you knew, because it doesn’t exist any more. You may have to detach your threads from what isn’t working and attach them to something that is. Quite possibly, more than once. We’re already seeing glimpses of the future: youth unemployment in Europethe fear economyEurope hobbled by a lack of technology skillsCanada’s unsustainable level of personal debt.

Could it happen here? It already has. How do plan to cope?

I started this post by talking about Scouts Canada. Scouts Canada and STEM proves that the organization has evolved. It also proves that there is a demand for young, relevantly educated Canadians—now. Today. Not at some point in the future. Now. And that BE PREPARED is as relevant now as it was then.

Our personal survival skills are being tested in ways they haven’t been tested before, especially where our young people are concerned. Survivalism is a word that’s come to be associated with preparedness. The Personal Due Diligence Project is about preparedness. A tip of the Boy Scout hat and a 3-finger salute to Lord Robert Baden-Powell.

Lemon substitutes, anyone?

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