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Would you help a stranger in need?

February 15, 2011

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?

  1. chrisshu permalink
    February 17, 2011 12:42 PM

    Though I cannot be sure of what I would do exactly, looking back to my past experiences I can surmise that I would most likely help the stranger who was left behind. Although I cannot say this for everyone, my life experiences have taught me that everyone is dependent on everyone else and that lending a hand to that straggler might mean that they can help you when you’re down. It’s not only a moral ordeal. Obviously, “morally” you should help the person but even in a survival point-of-view, helping someone may benefit you. Why I disagree with Hobbes’ point of view is that he states in the state of nature, man is inherently alone. However, even before the rise of societies and tribes, man, or primitive man, traveled in groups, hunting and foraging together. Though we tend to forget out past, we are still classified as Primates, one characteristic of which is being social. In American and Canadian, and perhaps to a lesser extent European nuclear families, the stress is on individuality. We have forgotten our dependence on others but in other societies, such as those in Asian and African countries, the communal emphasis is still there. I feel this is the one characteristic that makes us able to surpass other animals in the harsh Darwinian nature. They compete with each other to survive, killing each other or stealing each other’s food, but for humans, we share. We think of innovative ways so the collective can survive. I think that although many of us might be awkward of strangers, our inherent nature is to help them, since for us, it’s not just about morals but about survival. Solnit uses disasters to demonstrate peoples’ ability to help others but her argument is not that people help only when disasters occur. She means that when the foundations of our man-made society collapse or are threatened, we return to a more primitive state, one where we remember our collectivity and it just so happens that this occurs when disasters occur. Perhaps an example of communalism without disaster is the Amish in rural Pennsylvania. They work together to sustain a community without the threats of terrorist attacks or natural disasters. Some people do have the mentality of survival of the fittest, and don’t help those in need, but rather strive to be on top. Yet those are the ones with least support. The people who do not work together slowly die out, as seen in Viesturs autobiography and we are left with those who do work together. Thus, survival of the fittest is not just about who is the strongest singularly, but collectively. So from both a moral and naturalistic standpoint, yes, I would help the stranger in need.

  2. Pierre Gerondeau permalink
    March 6, 2011 11:59 AM

    I would also probably help a stranger in need. In contrast to Hobbes, I do not believe that people always act in self-interest. While on the mountain I would probably first think to save myself, but my upbringing and beliefs would prevent me from leaving and have me stay and help other people. I have never climbed a mountain before, but assuming that I had some mountaineering abilities and the means to help people and not hinder their situation, I would try to help them to the best of my ability. While I would probably fear death, as Hobbes would say is a fear of all men, I would not be able to live with myself if I did not help someone who was within my grasp. I agree with the comment above by chrisshu, that people have to work “collectively” in “survival of the fittest.” People may think that only the strongest and most adept to the environment can survive, but if people pool their resources from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds from high on a mountain, they can work together and have a better chance of survival. It is also positive to think that if you helped someone in need, they would do the same for you if you faced the same dangers.

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