Into the Wild: Balance of Community and Reflection

The book, Into the Wild, reveals an imbalance of community and self-reflection in the life of Chris McCandless. Throughout McCandless’s journey, it is evident that he spends a great deal of time by himself, reflecting and contemplating his life choices. McCandless obtains self-actualization in the end. The irony is that McCandless comes to understand the connection between happiness and human relationships too late as he perishes during his trek back to civilization. This book was thought provoking and has encouraged me to find a healthier balance in my own life.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs proves that our actions are motivated in order to achieve certain needs. The on-going question in the field of psychology is, what motivates human behavior? Maslow’s hierarchy contains five different levels of needs including physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem and finally, self-actualization. McCandless disputes Maslow’s hierarchy on every level until the end. Physiological (i.e. food and water) and safety needs (financial security and safety against accidents and injury) had no value in McCandless’s life as he gave away all of his possessions and took off on a solo trip. Self-actualization is the final level of Maslow’s needs. This level occurs when a person benefits from his talents while understanding personal limitations. Researchers completed a study to verify if Maslow’s hierarchy was valid. The researchers revealed that the fulfillment of the needs was compellingly associated with happiness. People from ethnicities all over the universe reported that needs and self-actualization were important even in situations where basic needs were unmet. McCandless disregards Maslow’s Hierarchy by displaying all of the traits Maslow identified that create a self-actualized person (until the end of the story).

Stress is known to be a common factor related to disorders and diseases. Through spending time alone, we are able to recharge our physical, emotional and spiritual selves. McCandless takes this concept to the extreme. By going off the grid and pushing everyone in his life away, McCandless reflects and contemplates his life. After a long day at school or work, I too find it important to destress and decompress for a short period of time. Where I try to balance my interactions with others and my quiet time, McCandless has no balance. He sees this lifestyle as the only way of life.

No matter who you are, it’s very important to have family and friends in your life. The more closely we are connected to the people we like/love, the happier we feel and the more personal satisfaction we have in our lives. Forming connections and a sense of community with peers, neighbors and family all contribute to our well-being. Friends and family are the people who help to overcome obstacles and to provide support. McCandless rejects all relationships and feels his independence is the key to his success. Relieved that he had again evaded the impending threat of human intimacy, of friendship, and all the messy emotional baggage that comes with it (Krakauer 55). McCandless is not only looking for peace to reflect on his life, but he also wants to prove his independence by not accepting help from others. When he is offered money to help him survive, he refuses the monetary offer as he feels he can survive on his own. …When she tried to give him a little money for helping out at a swap meet, she recalls, he acted real offendedhe wouldn’t take it (46). McCandless spends the last moments of his life alone in the wild, contemplating his life as he rebuffs the community of people surrounding him.

In McCandless’s life, family and friends are almost nonexistent. He was offered a great deal of help and comfort from family and friends; however, he refused any assistance. When his parents offered to buy him a new car and pay for law school, he declined as a way to prove is independence. He would no longer give or accept gifts. Indeed, Chris had only recently upbraided Walt and Billie for expressing their desire to buy him a new car as a graduation present (20). Going into the wild allowed McCandless to escape from reality and prove his independence and escape a terrible home life. With abusive parents and a deplorable home life, McCandless saw running away as his most beneficial option.

After reading this book, I realized that both community and reflection and contemplation in one’s life are equally important. We learn from others and are supported by others making it important to have friends and family in your life that you care about. It is very difficult in my life to balance these two. Family and friends are very important to me. The majority of my time is spent with my family and friends. When I am with them, I have a feeling of comfort and happiness. I am very much a people person which is why I don’t spend a lot of time in self-reflection. Sometimes I forget to take time for myself.

It is healthy to have a good balance between time with your community and time reflecting and contemplating. They are two very conflicting needs, however, both are vital to living a healthy lifestyle. McCandless and I are polar opposites; he lives with no community in his life and I live with a great deal of community in mine. Into the Wild revealed that both McCandless and I struggle with balancing two important conflicting needs in our lives but in contrasting ways.

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