For several years, I’ve visited Professor Paul Strom’s class, The Ethics of Ambition, to talk with the class about ethics and ambition in the climbing community. In the past, I’ve mentioned various ethical dilemmas climbers encounter and we’ve discussed what would be the better, or best thing to do in a given situation.
On this visit, I began with a discussion of ambition. To clarify this concept, I looked up a few definitions:
1. An eager or strong desire to achieve something, such as fame or power.
2. The object or goal desired:
[Middle English ambicioun, excessive desire for honor, power, or wealth]
and in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary
1. an ardent desire for rank, fame, or power
and in Dictionary.com:
an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, as power, honor, fame, or wealth, and the willingness to strive for its attainment:
I like the last definition best, as it includes “the willingness to strive for its attainment.”
Climbers, like other competitive athletes, train hard, sacrificing much, and risking even more, to attain their climbing goals, such as a coveted first ascent of an unclimbed peak.
So where do we encounter ethical dilemmas – training hard and sacrifice are generally considered beneficial. Training hard may cause us to neglect our friends or family, and we may sacrifice time with our family to devote to our training. With young athletes, such as the Olympic gymnasts, track starts, swimmers and many others, where the most competitive athletes seem to be around 16 (supposed) years old, this sacrifice is made as much by the athlete’s parents as the athlete themselves. But with endurance sports, such as mountain climbing, marathons, and the Tour de France, the older athletes perform better. In this case, the competitor’s husbands, wives, or children often share the burden of sacrifice.
One big question arose:
Should women with children be less willing to risk their lives on Himalayan peaks? When Alison Hargraves died on K2, leaving behind two toddlers, the press expressed outrage at her actions. However, when numerous male climbers died on many Himalayan peaks, the press was much less vocal.
Is it less ethical for mothers, than for fathers, to leave their children to climb in the Himalayas?
I don’t think so!
However, I’d like to hear the class’s opinion on this and other questions I posed.