Extreme sports build character and judgment

As is well known, the hardy, tough small group of mountaineers who challenge the most hostile environments for the sheer satisfaction of triumph over nature form a powerful bond. These happy few enjoy a solidarity, fraternity, and mutual obligation denied to those of us accustomed to the soft comforts of the easy life, and the experience builds judgment and wisdom not easily attained by the comfortable.

Or maybe they are just pathologically self-centered and nuts to boot…

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

6 thoughts on “Extreme sports build character and judgment”

  1. Q: Why did you climb the mountain?
    A: Because it was there.
    Q: Why did you step over the dying man?
    A: Because he was there.

  2. If you are depending on the charity and judgement of people who have been breathing low-pressure oxygen at 28,000' for 2 days to keep you alive, well, think Darwin Award.
    I wasn't there so I can't judge the situation or the people. I can say: don't go up on that mountain unless you are are aware there is a good chance you won't come back alive. It may look routine in this day and age, but as a friend of mine found out sometimes all the high-tech gadgets do is allow you to talk to your family on the satphone as you die.

  3. Creepy story all around. Hard to sympathize with anyone, really. Climbing everest on the cheap? Refusing to take enough oxygen and counting on someone else having enough to bring you back down when yours runs out? And who is supposed to sacrifice their oxygen for you? its not going to be the rich white climbers but their hired sherpas. People die in nepal–nepali people die of curable illnesses, or die bringing tasty food up the mountain for mountaineers who represent themselves as "summiting" more or less alone. One westerner who chooses suicide by incompetence when he doesn't have to does not begin to measure up against the hundreds of nepalese who have lost their lives or been injured servicing this industry.

  4. As someone who does climb non-trivial routes solo every now and then I accept its my own damn fault if I get in trouble and can't get help. But I don't understand this ethic of not helping people when you can that seems to be appearing on some of the more popular peaks these days. Fortunately, I've never encountered it in my climbing career and the people I have met on rock & ice have been more than helpfull when something goes wrong.

  5. I shouldn't have spoken so harshly in my original post. I have very strong feelings about people who can afford financially to take on extreme sports/events that potentially endanger others who have not properly prepared themselves for it. But on the other hand you might as well argue that all of life is an extreme sport and we are all, and necessarily so, at the mercy of the kindness of strangers. Blaming the guy who made a mistake and excusing the guys who stepped over his body to get to their goal (which no one here but me did) seems, on reflection, to be rather like the fighter pilots in Wolfe's The Right Stuff who are convinced that only incompetents get killed in plane crashes and that there is always something a truly great pilot could have done to avert disaster. In the end, I'll come down on Michael O'hare's side with the tenatitive "maybe they are just pathologically self centered and nuts to boot" and that goes for those who survive, mutilated, but find insufficient challenge in ordinary life and those that die, abandoned, in pursuit of the will of the wisp of an extra-ordinary life. There are so many more worthy things to die pursuing than bragging rights to having climbed a mountain that, after all, was just standing there minding its own business.

  6. Michael could be right, but I'll leave it to the person who has never driven by the scene of an accident on a busy highway to make the final decision.
    Main route on Everest on a good summit day is a highway.

Comments are closed.