The Will to Live

Many things capture my awe as an academic…one of the top things is the seemingly very deep will to life.

While not at all to discount those who suffer from depression and those who have (or have attempted to) kill themselves because of depression or those who are ultimately not able to survive due to pressures placed upon them (including sickness and diseases), humans seemingly frequently have a very deep desire to live and that really, really fascinates me.

We can find manifestations of the will to live in those who: 

  • were born enslaved or kidnapped and then enslaved;
  • survived the Holocaust;
  • serve governmentsmandated decades-long sentences when they are deemed guilty (and sometimes later innocent – even at times after they have died);
  • are women pressured into being a mother and wife against their will;
  • have chronic physical and/or psychological pain; 
  • live in countries (and a world) with plenty of help and resources yet live with nothing;
  • and in many, many others 

who, nonetheless, live comparatively long lives, frequently filled with subtle and not-so-subtle acts of rebellion and creativity in this cruel world.

People, again and again, throughout World History don’t “give up” when no one would blame them for doing so. Think how very different history would be if people in such situations just gave up and decided to die. 

Think how different the world would be, for example, if enslaved peoples hadn’t started the long Civil Rights Movement? The Civil Rights Revolution of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s is made possible by the will to live of those who came before. As Vincent Harding says, the will to live began the Civil Rights Movement.