Ethical Dilemmas; In Defense of Others?

Posted by: John W. Zimmer
Under: Self-defense
15 Aug 2009


The world over, people realize that we have the right to defend ourselves in self-defense but the defense of others has always been a murky concept. I mean what is our obligation to our fellow man or woman? One person can only do so much and even in the prosperous USA, homeless and mentally ill people abound in cities and tourist areas. Does an individual have an obligation to one person in need or is that societies problem at large?


As you can see before I really start getting into this topic there are a lot of grey areas. One person only has so much financial resources. A person has to provide for himself, his family, maybe his church, maybe his charities and then save for his retirement. The street bum or hobo’s as we called them in my youth are not our collective problem! Right? I mean they choose to live that lifestyle (one can argue this point either way)?


In this post I will attempt to clarify ones obligation to his fellow man or woman by telling a story that has haunted me ever since I learned about this ethical dilemma in my Organizational Management class for my MBA degree. Some mountain climbers found a monk on the high trail while ascending Mt. Everest. The Monk was near death and in the story it was not mentioned why the monk took the high trail instead of the normally traveled low trail. But before I get into that ethical dilemma, I found a funny short video about ethical dilemmas.


Disclaimer: I think the concept of global warming itself is still an open question. Why just 35 years ago I heard that global cooling was the issue. If it is ever proven that global warming actually exists, it is quite a leap to blame it on humanity instead of normal cycical warming and cooling trends of our planet. I just wanted to make this clear as I indiscrimently use this video to point out a comical ethical dilemma; that I am not subscribing to this “pop science” theory.

While watching that funny video I thought about in implications of a person bringing a hobo into one’s home. There have been cases where the “rescuers” where thanked by being robbed by the bum! By the way – I have always been fond of Polar Bear rugs but think the real bears are not too nice. :)

Now getting back to the dilemma at hand, the way Mt. Everest climbs are organized is to hire guides to carry the gear to different locations and set up camps. Climbers and their guides plan the climbs to coincide with favorable (hopefully) weather conditions. Many of these climbs are planned for years in advance and cost a lot of money.

I searched for the details of this incident but found I lost my DRM (digital rights management) to my PDF file from my school text, so I was unable to retrieve it. I will give an overview of the important details but I do not remember the names of the climbers in question.

The climbers were near their top base camp before they were going to make a try at climbing the peak! Then they found a monk dressed only in his robe, lying on the trail. They rigged up a stretcher and took him to their camp. They warmed him up, fed him some soup, gave him some clothes and tried to enlist assistance from the government to fly a chopper up to rescue the monk.

The government declined to assist the monk due to internal policies. I guess they reasoned if the monk was dumb enough to take the high road and risk his life – they were not going to risk their lives trying to save him. Perhaps the monk was the wrong race for the region? I’m not sure why the government did not assist but this left the climbers with a real ethical dilemma!

Their dilemma was what to do with the monk? They tried to get the guides to assist but they too declined. The guides made good money helping climbers get close to the top of Mt. Everest and every guide was important to this effort.

The climbers did not want to leave the monk on his own as he was too weak to climb. Their only ethical choice was to have bring the monk down the mountain themselves! But that did not take all of the climbers and the rest continued on their peak attempt.

A couple of the climbers with a guide or two, dragged the monk down the mountain and found another climbing party. The first group of climbers asked the second group of climbers to take the monk  and then tried to catch up with their climbing party (there was still time for a peak attempt).

The second group of climbers encountered the same problems with the government and guides so a couple of their climbers took the monk farther down the trail and found a third group of climbers who agreed to try and get the monk rescued. Here the story got fuzzy as no one could reliably figure out how the monk made if further down the mountain.

The first group of climbers I think, finally made it to the top of Mt. Everest! On the way down they asked each group of climbers what had happened to the monk. They finally found out that the monk had died. Again the details were fuzzy and at the time they were sad buy hey – they did every thing that could do – right?!

Years later when one of the climbing party wrote about this experience, he struggled with what was right and wrong about this issue. What is a human life worth? We all know what the life of our family members are worth but what is the life of a stranger worth?

Does a person that has saved his money to climb Mt. Everest, have to abandon all of his plans to rescue a monk and fore-go his attempt of a lifetime? Does a government owe a citizen of its state, the duty to attempt a rescue? Do citizens of a nation owe a dept to other citizens of that very same nation? Even if they are a different race, culture, or religion?

All of these are tough questions to consider. Back when I took the class I easily dismissed the claim of the monk to expect that foreigners should rescue him when his own people and government would not.

Ethical dilemmas are so easy to decide if one does not put a lot of thought into them but rather pin the responsibility on some other party.

So here is my question in light of this ethical dilemma above; Do we have any obligation to help others in need? If so is this obligation filtered through our own needs?

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5 Responses to “Ethical Dilemmas; In Defense of Others?”

  1. Martial Arts News 8.16.09 « Striking Thoughts Says:

    […] – John Zimmer talks about ethical dilemas. […]

  2. Chris | Martial Development Says:

    Why was the monk there, and what did he want? How unfortunate that this should be considered an irrelevant detail.

    It is no more ethical to drag him to the bottom of the mountain, then it would be to drag him to the top!

  3. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hey Chris,

    The monks normally took the low road… no reason was given why the monk would have taken the high road except it was probably a poor choice on his part.

    In terms of ethics, providing you think the hikers had a duty to rescue the monk, it becomes – is their responsibility ended by dumping the monk on the next climbing team?

    I remember a long debate on this topic in class. At the time I did not buy into the argument that the hikers had a duty as their own countrymen and government did not care.

    I’m now more of the opinion that yes – if I were the hiker, I would have a duty to get the monk to where he could be rescued by medical personal and not dump him off on the next group – not knowing if their level of care would match mine.

  4. On My Own Two Feet » Blog Archive » Do We Have an Obligation to Give Back? Says:

    […] My Self-Defense Blog, author John Zimmer poses the question Ethical Dilemmas; In Defense of Others?, in which he discusses whether or not we have an obligation to aid someone else in need. Are we, […]

  5. efland mixed martial arts Says:

    I always was interested in this topic and still am, appreciate it for putting up.bookmarked it ,..,….