Would you help a stranger in need?
Danger is scary. One cannot argue that. Sometimes danger is brought upon us, like the disasters Rebecca Solnit’s tells us in The Uses of Disaster, and other times we, as humans, put ourselves in dangerous situations, as author Ed Viesturs recounts in the first chapter of K2: Life and Death on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain. However, the way disasters effect the lives of ordinary citizens only goes so far when the disasters are not self inflicted. Horrors such as 9/11 were caused by fellow man. Other disasters Solnit discusses, though not caused by man, were outliers caused by the wrath of Mother Nature. The chances of these disasters occurring are slim, and when they do humans are forced to find other means of comfort—as Solnit claims, often by gathering in streets and banding together with strangers you would have normally never spoken too.
But these occurrences are outliers. What about when man chooses to put himself in a dangerous situation? When man explores earth’s terrain, seeking, as so many do, to summit one of earth’s highest and dangerous mountains, K2, how then will strangers act? Would you think they would ban together to defeat danger like civilians seem to do in Solnits stories? Or, and what seems to happen more often in Viesturs narrative, will strangers stick to the mentality that, if they don’t know them they don’t need to care?
Though I have never climbed an 8000m+ mountain, I have journeyed to the top of Mount Kilimanjari, Tanzania (19341 ft) which, for me at least, seemed to put me in similar situations as the people Viesturs talks about. Obviously, my life was never in danger like theirs were, but many of the same fears and decisions went through my head and the heads of my team when climbing the mountain.
While ascending the mountain on our final day, I too fell behind the more experienced climbers, suffering from altitude sickness and sheer exhaustion. As I recall, I couldn’t see straight and the only thing I could think about was Miley Cyrus’s new hit song, The Climb (not sure why, but I guess having three younger sisters got to me). At this point I was alone, and at 16 climbing what seemed to be an endless mountain I was terrified. As I continued onwards, a trio of climbers were quickly moving upwards towards me, only to stop behind me and wait. I moved to the side motioning to move forward, but they wouldn’t. For the next couple hours these strangers and I hiked in silence to the peak of the mountain, meeting the rest of my group and then going our own ways (what took us 4-6 hours should have only taken them 2 at the speed they were going).
Looking back at what happened, I question whether I would have stopped and helped a stranger hiking up all alone? Would I have had the patience for him/her? Especially if we couldn’t even speak… and never know who the other one was.
Truthfully, I have no idea. I would like to say “of course, who wouldn’t?” But still, I am uncertain.
What would you have done? Help the stranger in need?