Cultural Conflict and Forgiveness on Mount Everest

sherpas-mount-everest_66886_600x450Climbers and Sherpas had an intense and violent conflict recently on Mount Everest.  Like most conflicts, the presentation of the conflict, did not reflect each side’s feelings and needs.  It’s an amazing story of recognizing cultural differences and resolving conflict peacefully, taking into account the interests of both parties.

According to one source, three climbers above the Sherpas dislodged ice between Camp 2 and Camp 3 causing it to fall towards the Sherpas as the Sherpas were installing fixed ropes on the face.  One of the climbers wrote a blog detailing the fight and how the Sherpas attacked the climbers causing injuries.  According to the climber’s blog, the Sherpas told the climbers if they were not gone in an hour, they would all be killed.  However, the Sherpas claimed the climbers had ignored their requests not to pass as they installed the ropes, and how the climbers yelled inflammatory words in the Nepali language.  Naturally, it appeared both sides contributed.  The conflict culminated at Camp 2 when a mob of Sherpas attacked the climbers with punches, kicks and rocks according to CNN and  adventure journal.

But, what was really going on?  If you are a climber, you have invested an insane amount of money, energy, personal pride, and/or passion into your climbing.  You might be escaping your city life, pushing the envelope or just having fun.  You might be risking your life for a recreational pursuit.  Or, you might even consider it a spiritual journey.  If you are a Sherpa, you earn most of your family’s annual income in two months on the mountain.   This is your dangerous work where safety is essential.  You have also been raised with a deeply ingrained spiritual respect for the mountain.  And, your Buddhist beliefs might make you question those who make the dangerous climb for recreation or to add a bullet to the resume.  For example, According to National Geographic, the Incarnate Lama of the Tengboche Monastary recently said, “You can’t eat climbing awards or numbers of summits.”

The clash between the Sherpas and the climbers had been brewing for years.  The Sherpas have likely questioned the climbers’ motivations and attitudes for years, but their families are supported by the industry, so they stay quiet.  The climbers likely lack proper respect for the hard work of the Sherpas and probably fail to understand their concerns about the dangerous nature of the Sherpas’ jobs.  But, some believe the teachings of Buddhism led the parties to forgive each other and sign the Base Camp Peace Agreement stating:

““All those present agreed and committed that such activities must never be repeated by anyone in mountaineering and in the tourism sector. If any party is dissatisfied with the actions of another party, they commit not to go into conflict or use violence against the other party. Instead they commit to report the actions to the government representatives or relevant government recognized association present at the base camps, to come to an amicable solution between the parties.” It is a worthy and noble idea, and maybe it will lead to better understanding. But 50 years to the day since the first American ascent, the Everest climbing scene has become a complex mix of big-money efforts fueled by intensely goal-oriented people, where cultural and language differences easily lead to misunderstanding, all set in an extremely dangerous natural environment at an altitude that diminishes decision making and weakens the body. In light of all that, summiting might be the easy part.”

Wow.  They recognized their cultural differences and acknowledged they led to misunderstanding.  They committed to peace.  Impressive.

About kshobbs

Karin has mediated over 3,600 disputes in her 14 years as a full on professional mediator.
This entry was posted in Emotions, mediation, Settlement and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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