Humans are social creatures — while many of us enjoy moments of solitude, we thrive in the company of other people, whether they're family, friends, or team members. Our greatest accomplishments, from circumnavigating the globe to landing on the moon, have been group efforts. However, as anyone who has endured a difficult relationship can tell you, other people can also make our lives into a living hell. It's a classic catch-22: we often can't live with people, but also can't live without them.

In a survival scenario, there are numerous advantages to having at least one other person by your side. Assuming you're able to work together, you can divide and conquer tasks, watch each other's backs, and assist one another in the event of an injury. But your partner can also become your worst enemy, whether through unintentional panic or deliberate opposition and conflict. Think of a drowning situation — if you attempt to grab the floundering swimmer and help them stay afloat, they may end up dragging you under so you both die.

We've all seen the stereotypical movie scene where the hero's buddy gets injured and selflessly exclaims, “Go on without me! Save yourself!” Usually, the hero bravely refuses to leave anyone behind and drags his pal to safety as the music swells dramatically. Cue fiery explosions in the background as they reach safety; fade to black, roll credits. Unfortunately, it's not so simple in real life.

Sometimes you'll have to work with someone unpleasant to make the best of a bad situation, while other times it may be wise to cut and run immediately. Where do you draw the line?

This is the question we pose in today's edition of Survival Scenarios. For those who have missed our previous installments of Survival Scenarios, here’s how it works. We ask you how you’d handle a difficult choice in a hypothetical survival situation. These exercises can help you mentally ready yourself for an event you might encounter in real life someday, and consider adjusting your emergency preps accordingly. As always, the article will end with a poll where you can make your choice and see how others felt.

Background Info

Photo: (CC BY-SA 2.0)

You live approximately 40 minutes north of San Diego, CA, and work near the city center. Normally, you get on the freeway around 7am for your morning commute to work, but your trusty old SUV hasn't been so trusty lately. In fact, it broke down last week and left you sitting on the side of the road waiting for a tow.

Photo: (CC BY-SA 2.0)

It seems like your vehicle's reliability problems aren't too serious, but it's going to take a few days to get the parts and install them — in the mean time, you still need to get to work. So, you asked a few of your coworkers if they wouldn't mind giving you a ride. Unfortunately, everyone who lives near you apologetically explained they couldn't carpool… except for one person.

Steve is widely-known around the office for being a pain to work with. He never seems to be able to agree with anyone, and acts like a pompous know-it-all most of the time. You could mention that the sky is blue, and Steve would start a debate about how it's actually cyan, then lose his temper if you didn't agree with him. However, despite his disagreeable and childish behavior, your boss keeps him around because his sales numbers are second to none and he hasn't taken a day off in years.

Steve overhears you asking another coworker for a ride, and chimes in to say that he will pick you up (probably because he wants to show off the Audi he just bought). Knowing you've exhausted your other options, you put on a smile, thank him, and agree. Hopefully your SUV will be fixed soon and this will be a one-time occurrence.

He picks you up the next morning — right on time, as expected — and greets you with a smug expression before you drive off together. After 15 minutes on the freeway, several low-flying jets scream by overhead. You look out the side window and see military helicopters flying in formation in the same direction you're headed.

U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Parker Gyokeres

Living this close to Camp Pendleton, you're used to seeing similar activity, but never this much at once. Especially not concentrated in this area. As traffic slows to a crawl, you can see a huge column of dark smoke rising on the horizon. Cars begin to jostle for position to exit the freeway. Whatever this is, it doesn't seem like a training operation.

Steve frowns and turns the radio to a local news station. An automated message is playing, instructing everyone to stay calm, remain indoors, and keep the roads clear for emergency personnel. Maddeningly, it doesn't share any details on what's actually happening. You check your phone but web pages don't seem to be loading — maybe poor signal, or maybe an overloaded network. Steve shrugs this off and says it's just a drill, and that he's not missing a day at work because of something stupid like this. You protest and try to explain that this seems serious, and he responds with “Quit being paranoid. If you don't like it, you can walk. Otherwise we're going to the office.”

Conditions & Gear

Photo: (CC BY 2.0)

It's a typical southern-California summer morning, with clear weather and temperatures in the mid-80s. Your gear consists of only your lunchbox and a few items on your person. The office has a strictly-enforced “no weapons” policy, so you only carry a small folding knife inside your pocket. You also have your cell phone, keys, and wallet with about $30 in cash. You're wearing business casual apparel and dress shoes.

Sticking Together

You don't feel comfortable continuing on to work given the indications of some sort of major emergency. You considered the possibility of a wildfire, but the vague radio message, increased military activity, and location of the smoke in the distance suggest this is something more serious. It might be anything from an isolated industrial explosion to a dirty bomb, bioterrorist attack, or the start of a war.

If it's an isolated issue, you should be able to complete the remaining 25-minute trip to the office and decide what to do once you have more information. If it's some sort of large-scale attack, you could end up stuck in the car with your belligerent coworker — possibly the last person on earth you'd want to survive alongside.

Photo: Koalabaerchen / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

However, you can't exactly force Steve to turn around, and he's the type of person who would stick to his word and leave you on the side of the road. In an absolute worst-case scenario, you could probably take the car from him by force, but you don't feel like adding felony carjacking to your résumé unless you're positive your life depends on it. Anything short of that means you either keep going with him at the wheel, or get out while it's still relatively safe to do so.

If you decide to stay in the car, you might be able to convince Steve to let you out somewhere more preferable further down the road. Then again, you're pretty sure he won't want to leave the freeway at all unless it's obvious that he has no other choice. This might lead him to drive the two of you right into the middle of a dangerous situation.

In the mean time, at least you'd be mobile with access to radio news broadcasts, and wouldn't be standing outside directly exposed to anything the smoke on the horizon might contain.

Going Your Own Way

Photo: (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Although your head is telling you to think about the pros and cons of both options, your heart is saying tell Steve to go to hell and take his Audi and his smug attitude with him. Doing so would mean you're independent, and don't have to worry about the possibility that he will stubbornly endanger both your lives. For the time being, you'd be able to focus entirely on your own safety.

The obvious downside to this plan is that you lose your only guaranteed mode of transportation, aside from walking. You could try hitchhiking, but based on current events, you suspect that most people will want to get home to their families rather than stop to pick up a stranger. You're about 10 miles from your house, but you're not sure you should be walking around right now without knowing what's going on or how widespread it is. And your stiff dress shoes wouldn't be your first choice of footwear for that journey.

Photo: (CC BY 2.0)

One option would be to walk a short ways to the nearest business to check the news and ask around for more information. But if the situation escalates, you could end up stuck there. You'd much rather be at home where you have supplies set aside for a disaster, instead of stranded in some coffee shop with no gear and a bunch of panicking strangers.

Going on foot would undoubtedly feel better than staying with Steve, and reduces your risk of getting dragged into danger against your will, but it also limits your mobility and leaves you vulnerable.

The Decision

Based on the location, circumstances, and your gear, which course of action would you choose: stay in the car with Steve or head out alone on foot? Enter your decision into the poll below, and feel free to leave a comment on the poll to justify that choice.

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