Story 8: Sir Edmund Hilary
Dear Engaged Bystander: I believe that our leaders need to model how to step in, they need to actively acknowledge the everyday heroes in our lives, and they have to call out the people who decide to do nothing.
What would that look like?
I have saved an article about Sir Edmund Hillary for many years. For those who might not know who he is, he is the first man on record to reach the summit of Mt Everest. I love this story because it shows how those in leadership positions, speaking up can set a tone and a new social norm for an entire community.
In this case, Sir Edmund was horrified by "callous" modern climbers who walked past a dying man on the way to the summit. In this case, nearly 40 climbers passed David Sharp, 34, an engineer who had run out of oxygen after reaching the summit. One of the climbers explained, "I radioed and (the expedition manager) Russ said, 'You can't do anything. He's been there a number of hours without oxygen. He's effectively dead'. So we carried on."
Sir Edmund responded and said that it was clear that the priority of the climbers who passed by Mr Sharp was to get to the top. "David Sharp's welfare was secondary. There is no doubt at all that there has been a lowering of standards in recent years. As a consequence, people are being neglected and are dying."
The climbing community felt that Sharp's death reflected a changing ethic in the climbing community. Until then, it was assumed that no one would be abandoned unless their rescue put other lives in danger. Sir Edmund's statement was one way to re-establish the sense of caring for one another and community among climbers.
Imagine what it might look like if President Obama or former President Clinton decided focus on people taking risks, speaking out, and doing something if someone was threatened or at risk for being hurt. Imagine what it would feel like if you could count on someone saying something or intervening if you were in danger. That could be and I think should be the social norm.
Each time we ask each other to step up, let us also ask our leaders to begin to set an example. To give awards for those who do speak up and set an example with their own actions - each and every day.