The tragic death of an experienced climber on Mount Everest who used the above phrase, and the pictures of climbers queuing whilst roped together near the summit that went viral recently, have once again shone a light on our apparently insatiable need to conquer self-doubt by completing increasingly difficult challenges.
We only need to look at the number of our friends and family who set themselves challenges related to charitable giving to recognise that the fashion of asking for donations whilst ‘pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone’ is at a fever-pitch. I write as someone who has done the very same – I do not exclude myself from this.
On the face of it (pardon the climbing pun), there is nothing wrong with any of it. We should want to support charities and it is good to push ourselves. But as with all things, there are limits and we should be very much aware of our motivation for making a decision to challenge ourselves. If it isn’t for unselfish reasons – but is aimed at getting more ‘likes’ and approval, or at satisfying our own vanity – then we have gone very wrong somewhere.
I remember a verse from the Bible that goes something like ‘do not show off your good deeds in public, but keep them quiet’ (there are similar sentiments in most religious texts), and I wonder whether this is something we all need reminding of? The point of challenging yourself is to improve yourself. But there is no need to improve yourself ‘publicly’. In some ways the real joy of improving your own education/spirituality/fitness, or whatever, is that it’s best done privately, and in the long term will have a more positive, lasting and inspirational effect on other people (when they do eventually find out), than it would were it performed in the public eye.
While paying my sincere respects to those who have lost their lives tragically on the slopes of our highest peak over the last twelve months, and throughout history, I believe there is a warning for all of us to take away. Something is wrong.
What is wrong, is that so many individuals feel a need to conquer Everest. There are many thousands of difficulties to face in this life, without needing to add more. Unless you are professional, seasoned climber, you should go no-where near this peak – and even if you are vastly experienced you should think long and hard before attempting it.
What is wrong is that some of us feel a need to gain acceptance by fulfilling challenges that other humans have not done, or have found incredibly hard. Acceptance comes from being oneself and accepting the faults of others – from love and forgiveness; not throwing ourselves out of aircraft with a parachute strapped on, hoping that the rip-cord will work.
What is wrong is that too many of us have begun to worship ‘difficulty’ and ‘hardship’ as true tests of human character, which is a vague truth, bent by superstition, and worryingly close to the right-wing ideals of supermen and superwomen. We do not want to venture down that path again.
Human character is tested in many, many ways, in ordinary life, in the simple every-day. Human character will be defined by our reaction to these, as well as to world events, to disasters, to trials and tribulations – many of which already occur just a few hours flight away from your coffee machine and comfy sofa.
So my plea to you, is that if you really wish to be incredible, super, fantastic, amazing – if you crave more acceptance, or if you believe that you must challenge yourself, fine. You can join the military, volunteer with a charity, find a cure for a terrible disease; ride a bike, run, leap; do whatever you wish to do and whatever makes you happy. But for God’s sake, for all our sakes, don’t make a huge song and dance about it. Do it quietly and calmly, and don’t expect everyone to love you when your challenge is finished. We all have different priorities and needs, because we are all different people.
I grin ironically as I write, because I know that I have been guilty of making decisions based on the views of others myself. However, I am learning, as we learn – and we continue to believe that we increase in wisdom – I trust that we will make wiser, more careful decisions: Decisions that will preserve life, promote peace, increase happiness, motivate others to good, but never put our own selfish vanity first.
No challenge is worth your life, unless it saves many more.