Sunday, December 02, 2007


[You can read an update on Evan, his climbing, and his efforts to use his avocation to raise money for his school at Summits for Evan's School.]

My oldest grandson, Evan, started a new family tradition last year by asking everyone around the Thanksgiving dinner table to tell a story about themselves or to sing a song. When his father's turn came this year, he told the story of a hike to the peak of Mt. Katahdin that he recently had taken with my daughter and their two sons.

Mt. Katahdin is the highest mountain in Maine, with its tallest peak reaching more than 5,200 feet. Getting to the top presents a challenging hike, particularly for an 8-year-old and his 6-year-old brother. Somewhere along the trail Evan's resolve began to waiver. He sat down and told his parents and brother that he would wait while they continued up to the summit.

Before they could convince him that this was not an option, however, a small group of young hikers from Quebec came upon them.

A young woman in the group noticed that Evan was distraught. She walked up to him and told him that she had had similar bouts of hesitancy on many hikes in the past. The thing that helped her, she said, was a special plaster she wore. She took out two seemingly ordinary bandages from her backpack and handed them to Evan.

"I have an extra one you can have," she said. "And here's another in case you need it on the way down."

Evan put on the plaster and headed on up Katahdin. Along the way they would occasionally spot the same group of hikers, who always greeted Evan with a thumbs-up signal.

The boy exuberantly completed the climb. When he and his family had descended the mountain and re-entered their campsite, the young women burst into applause when they saw Evan, his brother Luke and their parents.

The story of the young woman's small act of kindness brought into stark relief how great an impact it can have if we choose to reach out to another person in apparent duress. It begs the question of whether we're ethically obligated to help others when it's within our power to do so.

Fourteen years ago, as I was standing outside the entryway to a Manhattan hotel and looking for a taxi, a somewhat-unkempt man approached me.

"Do you ... ," he began.

Before he could even finish, I responded with a curt "I don't have any."

He paused, looked at me and said, "Of course you don't."

He walked on.

I had assumed that the man was approaching me for money. In my haste to hail a cab without having to deal with anything else, I was quick to brush him off. For all I know, he may have been trying to ask me for directions. I'll never know. I've regretted my knee-jerk response ever since.

We are not ethically obligated to help every stranger who crosses our path. But if helping others is something that we hold to be a core personal value, then the right thing to do is not to dismiss those who approach us for assistance -- certainly not the way I did, without even giving the man a chance to ask.

My experience 14 years ago changed how I have responded to similar situations ever since. But it paled in comparison with how a young woman's decision to be kind when she didn't have to gave an 8-year-old boy the confidence he needed to complete his climb.

c.2007 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)


Anonymous said...

Lovely story - haven't you read about Dumbo and the crow's magic feather that helped him fly? I'm sure that young woman had.
Of course people should help each other when they're able. It's the grease on the wheels of civilization. But please, Jeff, it doesn't BEG THE QUESTION! It invites, or it leads to, or it suggests the question. "Begging the question" is a form of faulty logic, and I won't go into its Latin roots unless you ask (you don't have to beg.)
Thank you, I'm done now.
Nice topic.

Maggie L

Anonymous said...

Good story --
One of the best true stories ever told on the test of our moral obligations is "The Parable of the Sadhu" by Bowen McCoy - related in an HBR classic that takes place in the Himilaya's during the author's group attempt to reach the mountain's peak.

I use the HBR article along with a video tape that reconstructs the event -- as a prompting for a discussion of corporate ethical behavior.

I recommend it -- no student (or corporate executive) I have ever shown it to has forgotten the powerful message conveyed in the article/video.

- Jan Bohren

Unknown said...

Jeffrey Seglin works for the extremely unethical New York Times, owned by radical leftist Arthur Sulzberger, Jr, and Jeffrey tells others about "ethics"?

Where was the "ethics" in hiring, and keeping on Jayson Blair?

Where was the "ethics" in giving socialist George Soros a hefty discount on his ant-American hate piece calling General Petrayus "General Betray Us"?

Seglin should seek employment elsewhere. Ethics are incompatible with the radical New York Times.

Gary Zeune said...

Jeff - As always an interesting column today on ethics of doing good. I assume you've seen the studies out the last couple of weeks how doing good makes you feel good about yourself which might have prompted your column????

I especially connected with your comment to the homeless man cutting him off in mid-sentence. I love helping people but I refuse to enable their dysfunctional behaviors. So when a homeless person, usually a man, asks for money, I ask, "What's it for?" 99% of the time they say, "For food. Man. I'm hungry." So I say, I don't give handouts, but I'll buy you lunch. There's a [fill in the restaurant]. Let's walk over and I'll buy you lunch." And 99% of the time they decline. So they lied to me. The money isn't for food. It's for drugs or booze. I don't work my butt off 70 hours a week and travel 35 weeks a year to waste it. Caught in a lie they usually go away quietly.

Anyway, I make it a point to do a 'good deed' every day. Sometimes it's something as simple as holding a door. But with today's PC climate you never know. I'll be 60 next year and, not often, but sometimes a young woman gets offended. So I ask, "May I hold the door for you?" I put the decision is their hands rather than presuming.

I discovered a long time ago people don't like to be told what do to. It's much better to give them options so they can decide what to do. For example, cars with the blinkers on. Rather than TELLING the driver to turn it off, I say, "Your blinker is on." The driver always thanks me for the information, rather than getting mad. I don't presume to tell them what to do.

Hope this is some food for thought. Now close that laptop and finish your shopping..........

Gary Zeune, CPA, Founder
The Pros & The Cons
World's only speakers bureau for white-collar criminals
Office 614-761-8911
Fax 206-202-0880
Cell 614-571-8334
10356 Wellington Blvd Suite D
Powell, OH 43065

Anonymous said...

Dear Jeffrey:

I read your comment about your encounter 14 years ago and it reminded me of an incident the other day when I was visiting my college-aged daughter in San Diego. We were approached in a shopping center by a man who asked for some money, saying he was hungry. His eyes brightened and he thanked me when I gave him $5, the smallest bill I had. As my daughter and I walked one way, he walked towards the drug store. I commented with sarcasm that he was probably going to buy a bottle of wine. My daughter chided me. She reminded me of ANOTHER incident, a few years ago, when we were in Portland, visiting my aunt, who lives on the fringes in a less-than-desireable downtown area. Some of her "friends" were hanging around the building one hot afternoon as we left to take my aunt to run an errand. They were asking passersby for money, saying that they wanted to buy ice cream. I gave them some money and as we left my husband had said something sarcastic about how they were probably going straight to the corner liquor store as soon as we left. Sure enough, we watched them walk straight to the liquor store as we drove off. When we returned, there they all were, lined up outside the building...eating ice cream bars and smiling like children at a party. At least my daughter learned to reserve judgment on her fellow man after that day. I need to remember that lesson.