Sharing Survival and Prepping: How to Speak to Friends and Family About Being Prepared


Having other people to help and support you is oftentimes more valuable than all the stockpiles in the world, but unfortunately it can often be difficult to bring up the topic without sounding crazy. Even close friends and family who you trust might be a little weirded out by the idea of preparing for even a temporary breakup of the status quo. Fortunately, there are ways to speak earnestly and intelligently with others in a way that might convince them.

The key to begin: empathy

The first thing you must do before speaking with someone it to take some time to “get in their head” and understand how they think and respond. This may require you to at least attempt to comprehend and understand viewpoints that are polar opposites in religion, politics, philosophy, or even just general life and habits. You don’t necessarily have to accept the viewpoints as valid, but valid or not you must understand the other person’s viewpoint in order to present things in a way that they will understand and respond well to. Empathy is the ability to recognize the emotions experienced by others, and it is key to understanding the other person’s views.

Understanding some of the major barriers to the preparedness mindset

When it comes to convincing someone of the need to prepare, a little mental trick commonly known as Normalcy Bias can tend to kick in. It affects all people to a greater or lesser degree, but it is usually strongest in those who already view preparedness negatively to begin with. The Normalcy Bias is basically the brain kicking over to “default-mode” in response to a potential negative situation, which results in downplaying the odds of the negative event occurring or minimizing the potential effects.

Normalcy Bias places blinders to consequences and odds in order to fit in a preconceived mold.

Normalcy Bias places blinders to consequences and odds in order to fit in a preconceived mold.

For example, despite the fact that there are over 1 million housefires of varying sizes per year there are still people who refuse to put fire escape plans in place or install smoke detectors or other gear in order to minimize the potential damage. If confronted on the point, many of these people will insist that any housefire would be easily managed, quickly noticed, or very small and inconsequential. They don’t want to deal with the situation, so they create a scenario in their minds that allows them to “deal” with a housefire without needing to adjust their habits or spend additional money. This can be applied across the spectrum to a variety of situations ranging from personal habits (obesity, lack of exercise, etc) to natural disasters.

The other common cognitive bias is known as “Somebody Else’s Problem”. In this case, the person recognizes the issue but fails to take personal responsibility for dealing with the problem. The most dramatic instance would be when people have heard or seen someone being attacked by robbers and doing nothing to help (even calling the police!), trusting in a mythical “somebody else” to deal with it. From a preparedness perspective, someone with this bias often considers preparing for disasters to be a purely community or government-based effort rather than a coordination between national and individual resources. These are the people who will do nothing in preparation for a disaster, fully trusting that some charity or government agency will have food, water, shelter, and transport ready and waiting to take care of them. Issues like blocked roads, too many helpless victims for the amount of resources available, or immediate personal harm are mitigated by Normalcy Bias, allowing them to continue on without worrying.

Both of these cognitive biases permit even otherwise intelligent and self-aware people to form a mental block for preparedness, particularly if they have some other issue with the idea to begin with. Depending on the person, sometimes just talking with them can break them out of their mental bubble. Others may need some real-life examples to shake them, while still others may simply need time to come to grips with it. Finally, there are some who never will for whatever reason. Regardless, you need to consider that one or both of these biases may be present when you’re speaking with them.

Common Icebreakers to start the conversation

Once you’ve taken the time to consider their point of view, you need to actually begin the discussion. Of course, switching from football or discussing the weather to The End of the World as we know it! can be somewhat jarring by itself. As such, it’s usually better to gently lead into the discussion so that the other person can actually participate in the conversation rather than just listen to you drone on. Here are some common icebreakers that can help you lead into a good conversation on preparedness:

Incidents such as Hurricane Katrina can be great icebreakers since they provide solid visual examples.

Incidents such as Hurricane Katrina can be great icebreakers since they provide solid visual examples.

  • Recent severe weather incidents. Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, or just severe thunderstorms are common to talk about but leave a lot of obvious room for discussing how being prepared beforehand could have helped the victims. The more local it is the better generally, though major and obvious disasters like Hurricane Sandy or Katrina can often work just about anywhere because the news embedded those so well.
  • Home invasions and crime. These often wake people up a bit if they hear of someone nearby who had their home broken into. It suggests a need for additional protection in the form of a personal firearm, appropriate training, and/or passive defenses like a better door lock.
  • Job loss. This one is sadly all too common a topic now, but it can be used positively to show the benefits of planning ahead. Having a few months of food, water, medical supplies and the ability to be more self-sufficient in general does help get over that unemployment hump until you find a new job after all.
  • “Zombie Apocalypse” planning. Zombies are so popular that even the CDC used them to get people talking about staying alive during an emergency. Even people dead-set against “all that prepping nonsense” will happily list their zombie survival plans, which often mesh well with real-world disaster preparedness (sans hordes of cannibalistic dead).
  • Watching a good preparedness movie. Any movie that shows at least semi-realistically how people struggle to survive in a hostile environment can help get people thinking. We’ve previously discussed the movie Cast Away on this very blog because it was a strong visual example of an everyday guy surviving on an island by himself.

The conversation itself

Only you know the person you will be speaking with, so there is only so much I can advise specifically. However, there are some points I’d recommend you consider during your conversation:

  • Fear can wake someone up, but it is a terrible motivator. The point of preparing is not to be neurotically frightened of every little thing and stocking up enough guns, beans, and water to make yourself feel better. It is taking an intelligent look at very real threats to you or your family and being ready to handle them. I never recommend just scaring the pants off of people so that they’ll do whatever you say since it often results in a terrible approach to preparedness that lacks critical thought. Pointing out that a hurricane could easily blow the house down can be helpful in overcoming Normalcy Bias, but it shouldn’t be the overarching answer to any criticism.
  • Baby steps forward are still steps forward. Not everyone can go from hearing about prepping to stacking his basement with cases of MREs overnight. When I started I basically just spent a little cash buying a week’s worth of food more than I usually would, plus a few cheap water filters. Now I have my own homestead complete with hogs and a garden, but it didn’t happen overnight. Just getting to the point where I was willing to prep at all took months of reading books and blogs, and I was fairly open to the idea! Be patient with people, and remember that any preparation that they go for that they wouldn’t have before is a victory.
  • Start small, then expand the scope of disasters. Obviously I don’t know the largest or worst disaster you personally are prepping for, but whatever it is might be too much for a newbie to get into all at once. Preparing for the total collapse of the U.S. and a degradation into Mad Max Part 4 is much more difficult to accept than, say, buying a few hand crank flashlights for a severe thunderstorm. Again, be patient!
  • Remember to include the positive and the negative. It can be easy to try to get people to prep by sharing horror stories of people stuck without food or what have you, but why not include positive examples of how prepping is a major benefit? Maybe you share fresh fruits and veggies from your survival garden, or you get to enjoy a fun weekend improving your firearms skills every now and again. Frugal people might like to see how many foods valued by preppers allow for eating on the cheap, while an inventive person might find the uses for a simple trash bag intriguing. Preparedness isn’t just a grim waiting for some inevitable catastrophe, so make sure you present the whole spectrum!
  • Know when enough is enoughThere are some people who need time to themselves to come to a final conclusion, and frankly there are some people who will never be convinced. There is no reason to ruin a good relationship with a friend over a disagreement like this, so please remember to show some restraint.

Talking with other people about preparedness can be difficult, but hopefully with this guide to assist you it will go well. There are few things more valuable than other helpful people during a disaster, so make sure you make the effort to talk with others!

Your thoughts?

Anything else that might help when talking about preparedness? Let us know in the comments below!

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  1. This article is factually inaccurate. Zombies are UNdead.

  2. James Gallno says:

    If everyone was a prepper, there wouldn’t be much of a problem when TShTF.

  3. talking to someone about a snowstorm is a good start.
    i’ve been in the middle of a hurricane and the resulting flooding when i was 17. and to many severe snowstorms to count.
    i was born and raised in upstate ny in the chemung river valley. hurricane agnes struck the northeast in 1972. thankfully my parents had bought my grandfathers old farm house on 3 acres a couple of years before. that house had 8 bedrooms. we ended up having 30 people living with us. all family and friends but it was a wicked pinch. the monastery across the way found out us and all our house guests and brought over all kinds of bread and other baked goods, plus mutton and chicken, cheese and milk for all of us. eventually some of them found other places to go to ease the burden. but we were still a household of 16 people. our home in town was flooded to the ceiling of the first floor and my uncle and family totally lost their house and had to rebuild.
    snow storms?? oh jeeze. worse one was 14″ of snow in the northeast corner of tn. we were without power for 10 days. luckily my 2 kids and i were experienced tent campers. my then boyfriend was living with us too. but i had just bought a bunch of groceries a few days before, plus it had become a ‘habit’ to always have extra on hand. but we were setting good with our camp stove, grill, flashlites, lanterns and kerosene heater. not so our neighbors…
    there are simple everyday things that can happen that being a “prepper” can help mitigate!!!

    • Thanks for the great comment, Echo! Sounds like you’ve lived through plenty to tell others about. I agree, being a prepper comes in handy for much more than just “the apocalypse”.

  4. Having spent many years in sales and management, allow me to suggest some points that may help you help others.

    First and foremost, EVERYONE you approach is going to be preoccupied with many other thoughts. You must break that preoccupation with some type of “warm up” technique. A good joke is always a good start, especially if it pertains to the subject you want to approach. If you don’t break that preoccupation first, nothing you show or say will gel.

    Another thought is, “every time two people meet, a sale is made”. Either they buy what you are selling, or you buy what they sell.

    Another adage to keep in mind is, “People will buy from those they like.” So, get friendly first.

    Look around the room and you will surely discover what things your audience likes. It can be sports, religion, hunting, outdoor life, or a myriad of other things. Find what they like and keep your conversation orbiting that subject. Come back to it if the conversation starts to drift off topic.

    You can sell more if you listen well. Instead of lecturing, ask questions to steer the conversation. An interactive conversation will accomplish far more than a lecture.

    A powerful close will make them think about what you’ve discussed so be sure to cover all points discussed in your wrap up.

    Be sure to thank them for their time. Let them know you too are a busy person so you appreciate them allowing this time window for this important discussion.

    As a last thought, another old adage is the Salesman’s Prayer: “Help me Lord to sell my stuff, and shut my mouth when I’ve said enough!”

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