Moral High Ground

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I recently placed judgment on a friend of mine. In the moment, I could not see that what I was doing was unfair, but I realized later my judgment was wrong. We had been having a conversation about the book, “Into Thin Air,” by Jon Krakauer, in which he chronicles the Mount Everest tragedy of 1996. After reading that book and recent accounts about overcrowding on the mountain, I began to take a moral high ground on those that choose to climb it. I began to feel that thrill-seeking and greed were taking precedence over safety.

Now let me clarify that I am not a thrill seeker. I’m not adventurous. I prefer to stay safely on the ground most of the time, so I have a hard time understanding those who choose to jump out of airplanes or climb tall mountains. I once had a lively discussion with someone at a party – he was insisting that taking risks like jumping out of a plane was the only way to truly “live.” I disagree. I feel that one can experience a full life without undertaking adrenaline rushes via risk-taking. But there are those who choose to have those experiences – I just have a hard time understanding it, because I prefer to live a quieter life.

My friend shared that after reading the book, she too wanted to climb Everest, and I immediately bristled. My first reaction was to imagine her as part of the problem – exacerbating an already touchy situation. But I was wrong. She has every right to climb that mountain, should she choose to pursue that path. I cannot say that she is part of any problem. It’s not my place to say. What I failed to recognize in the moment was that I found it easy to judge because it’s not an action I would personally take. My friend could turn the tables and judge ME for NOT climbing the mountain, by arguing that I am taking away from the region’s economy, which is highly dependent on mountain climbers.

My point is that judgment comes from a place of our own beliefs and the actions we choose to take or not to take – and we have no right to immediately dictate or question the actions of others. Judgments are unfair and help no one. What should happen instead is curiosity – a discussion about the desire for experiences and possible results of those experiences.

I was reminded of another recent interaction with a friend, in which she started reading a book that inspired me deeply. She was put off by the actions in the book, so she took the moral high ground, shut the book and refused to read any more. I was disappointed that she never let the author finish her story. And then I did the same: I shut the book on another friend. Upon reflection, I would like to reopen the book and give her the opportunity to finish telling me her story.