On the 11th May 1996, two Japanese mountain climbers, Hiroshi Hanada and Eisuke Shikegawa, accompanied by three Sherpas set out to summit Mount Everest. By 6.00am they skirted a steep rock promontory called the First Step. It was here they came across an Indian climber, lying in the snow, horribly frostbitten but still alive. Without oxygen or shelter, he had somehow survived a night on the mountain. Yet, despite seeing him the Japanese team walked by, not wanting to jeopardise their attempt to summit.
A little over an hour later, at 7.15am, they arrived at the Second Step. After a strenuous 90 minute climb they made it to the top of this step, where just a little further they came across two more of the Indian team. One close to death and the other crouching in the snow. Nothing was said. No oxygen, food or water was given. They walked by, and stopped 160 feet further along where they rested and exchanged oxygen bottles.
Later when explaining their choice to British journalist, Richard Cowper, they explained, “we were too tired to help. Above 8,000 meters is not a place where people can afford morality.”
It’s easy to read this story and be appalled at the actions of the Japanese team, but their base decision raises a question for us all. Where is a place where my morality stops? Where is the line? Is it when I am cut off in traffic? When I am attacked or maligned? Is it late at night when no one is around? The ways in which morality stops might not be as serious or dire as walking past a dying man, but it can happen in all sorts of little ways. It’s holding back the truth, looking at questionable websites, it is yelling abuse at another, it is any of those little acts where we let go of our humanity and choose not to do what is right.
Conversely, would we not have applauded the Japanese team had they let go of their ambition for the sake of another? When conventional wisdom is that morality has a ceiling of 8,000 meters on the mountain, to choose the more noble way invites us to question conventional wisdom and our own choices.
Everyday we encounter choices where we embrace conventional wisdom in regards to morality and we can either embrace it or choose to live in a different way. What choices could you make in the course of your day where you redraw the line of morality? How can you live a life of nobility.