November 9, 2004
Yossi Ghinsberg: Never play the victim
Yossi Ghinsberg, an Israeli dreamer, explorer and storyteller, delivered a clear message Monday night: Never allow yourself to become a victim.
Ghinsberg talked for nearly two hours in the Robert Brown Theatre at Cowley College, telling his harrowing story of survival in the Amazon rain forest in the early 1980s, while at the same time mixing in messages for people to live by today.
“We are all responsible and accountable,” said Ghinsberg, whose appearance followed the College Endowment Association’s annual banquet and was sponsored by the cultural arts series Heartland Arts at Cowley.
Ghinsberg told the story of four men, all from different nations, who set out to explore the Amazon rain forest in 1986. The group split up, two going one way and two another. Ghinsberg never saw two of the men ever again, and he thought he’d never see his partner, Kevin, again after getting separated from him following a rafting accident.
But after three weeks, which included several days without food, Ghinsberg and Kevin miraculously were reunited. Each believed the other to be dead.
“I knew that if I could get to a clearing, a plane might see me,” said Ghinsberg, who had heard and spotted a plane overhead in the dense rain forest.
Several days passed, and Ghinsberg knew his only hope for survival was to stay close to the Amazon River. However, that’s also where the vegetation was the heaviest.
As it turned out, Ghinsberg reached the clearing and collapsed, only to find out that his companion and friend, Kevin, had reached the same clearing yards away.
Ghinsberg told how his body had become a complete wreck. A tree branch had gouged his side. His feet were nothing but shreds of flesh. And after urinating on himself, he was attacked by thousands of termites, which also shredded his clothing.
Still, he was determined to survive.
“I never thought of myself as a victim in all of this,” he said. “I trusted the man motoring the raft, as all four of us did. I had nothing to do with that situation, but I still felt accountable and responsible for my current situation.”
Ghinsberg’s Laws of the Jungle challenge audiences on emotional and intellectual grounds. The laws:
Never choose the path of a victim; always maintain responsibility; meet fears and obstacles from a place of strength and wisdom; ride on the waves of change, as it is futile to resist them; understand life as something that happens for you, not to you; and build a solid base of operation: positive emotions, gratitude and grace.
Ghinsberg believes adversity is a part of life, and that being a victim is a matter of choice.
“It’s not about what happens, it is about the way you perceive it,” he said.
“Where is it? It’s right here. When? Now,” he said.
Ghinsberg divides his time between the rainforest of Australia and the East Coast of the United States.