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Sunday, July 03, 2005
The Lesson of the Sadhu: A case study in organizational ethics A paper written for “Creating and Leading an Intentional Organization” (Leadership 8520).
The Case of the Sadhu
Bowen McCoy's (1997) “Parable of the Sadhu” gives us the tale of McCoy's journey walking through Nepal. Half-way through his 60-day trip through the Himalayan Mountains, McCoy and his anthropologist friend along for the journey, Stephen, encounter a near dead, almost naked, barefoot, Indian holy man suffering from hypothermia and exhaustion. They found the the Indian holy man, a Sadhu, above 15,500 while on one of the most difficult summit climbs of their entire trip. Climbing the mountain in the vicinity of McCoy and Stephen, and their assorted porters and Sherpas, were three other climbing parties representing an international flavor from New Zealand, Switzerland, and Japan. While representatives from each climbing party provided some assistance to the Sadhu, in the end, the Sadhu was left behind – with clothing, food, and drink – more than two days journey from the nearest village. The climbing parties all pressed on and made the summit, their goal for that particular climb; the fate of the Sadhu was left unknown. Both Stephen and McCoy supposed that, in the end, the Sadhu died. McCoy's dilemma was simple, at least on retroflection: should he have done what he did – provide some assistance and then press on to complete his goal – or should he have done more. As McCoy suggests, “Real moral dilemmas are ambiguous, and many of us hike right through them, unaware they exist.” (1997, p. 58)
Encountering the Sadhu
On our journey through life, all of us encounter our own Sadhus, people who come into our lives and seem to need some help and yet, if we provide that help, we will be pushed from our path toward our goals. Often, if we are even conscious of the dilemma and not just “hiking through it,” we will believe that providing help to the Sadhu will keep us from our goal. Often, we are so focused on the intended goal that we see nothing else. As McCoy (1997) notes, the hikers at 15,500 feet were under stress and oxygen deprived; their decisions were made under duress with the goal of attaining the summit within sight. To turn back, to provide true aid to the Sadhu, would have been to give up the goal of the summit. McCoy also notes that his most interesting experience in Nepal involved living in a Sherpa home for a five days while recovering from altitude sickness; Stephen's most interesting experience was participating in a Nepalese funeral ceremony. Neither of these “most interesting experiences” involve attaining the summit; as a matter of fact, both of them are about taking the unplanned route. Some people would suggest that life is about the journey, not the destination; McCoy's observation seems to support this assertion, although his essay provides clear evidence he is not convinced. What then, should I do when I encounter Sadhus on my journey through life? Do I stay on the path toward my goal, or do I deviate and provide aid and comfort to the Sadhu? Using Brown's (2000) standards and ethical bases, the answer is simple: it depends. As McCoy notes, “Not every ethical dilemma has a right solution. Reasonable people often disagree; otherwise there would be no dilemma.” (1997, p. 59) Brown's mental model, the decision making diamond, would have us use three steps, or bases, in making a decision (observations, value judgments, and assumptions) to do one proposal or another. (p. 32) Brown suggests we filter the decision-making diamond process through three possible paradigms, examining the proposed action against our purpose for being, against some moral principle, and against the consequences of the action. McCoy's (1997) analysis of his encounter with the Sadhu shows that only after the encounter did he run the decision making process; his friend Stephen was quicker. On the mountain, the...
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