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The Parable of the Sadhu: A Position Paper

INTB 1203 Team 2
Donovan Dicks, Janelle Dinsmore, Sebastian Filmer, Jiaxin Feng, Kamil Gadzhiev
In business and personal environments, we will often encounter dilemmas that will test

our resolve and character. In the case of the sadhu, Bowen McCoys decisions as an individual

and a part of his group to leave the sadhu can be justified through utilitarian frameworks.

McCoys decision to offer help to the sadhu until the point where further help to the

sadhu would not be in the hiking groups best interest is ethical from a utilitarian perspective.

McCoys focus was on the best possible outcome for the largest number of individuals affected

by the decision. First of all, McCoy and the others all offered help to the sadhu, so,

consequentially, the sadhu could have greater potential to survive. Then, McCoy and other hikers

focused on reaching the top of the mountain. With the decision they made, they reached summit

as planned eventually, and also helped the sadhu as much as they could, without causing any

inconvenience, given the condition of limited resources and extreme environment. Such high

stress environments make ethical dilemmas further complicated, as the hikers were physically

strained and forced to act quickly. As stated in the case, Stephen was the only one who fully

considered the consequences in that moment, but McCoys focus on the present best interest of

the majority is ethically sound according to utilitarianism. An additional point of consideration,

ambiguity surrounded the sadhus fate, as opposed to the important and clear goals the hikers

aimed to achieve. When the hikers encountered the sadhu, their original goals took priority in

their decision making process. With their limited resources, the hikers didnt expect that their

marginal help could even save the life of the sadhu, so they didnt feel strongly about their

limited actions. What right does an almost naked pilgrim who chooses the wrong trail have to

disrupt our lives? McCoy said, defending the large group3.

While the formalist perspective might claim that McCoy had a universal duty to save the

sadhu, this specific circumstance speaks to the contrary. Formalism tends to treat all people

alike, and suggests that all individuals generally hold the same values, such as life itself.1

However, it is entirely possible that the sadhu did not wish to be saved. The sadhu could have

very well placed himself in the situation he was found, perhaps with the intent to die. Hindus

believe in reincarnation, or rebirth into a different body, after death2. One could guess that the

sadhu may not fear death because of an expectation to reincarnate and continue his spiritual

pathway. In addition, the idea of karma and nirvana might play a role in the sadhus intentions.

Karma created a challenge that the unfortunate one had to face, and by facing these challenges,

Hindus can come close to spiritual perfection. To add to that, many Hindus believe that the way

to achieve nirvana is to lead a severe ascetic lifestyle of material and physical self-denial,

devoting life to a spiritual rather than material quest.2 This potential explanation of the sadhus

intentions and the sadhus religious beliefs aid in alleviating the burden that McCoy carries. If

the sadhu did not wish to live, then who is to say saving his life is an objectively good act? As

McCoy asks, where is the limit of our responsibility in a situation like this?3 While the motive

to save another humans life may be ethical in some cases, other times it may conflict with

anothers wishes. Thus, McCoy has been told that in trying to assist the sadhu, [they] were

being typically arrogant Westerners imposing [their] cultural values on the world.3 As such,

McCoy and the other climbers are justified in not fully pursuing the safety of the sadhu, so as to

allow the man the opportunity to pursue his own ideals and objectives, according to his own

culture and beliefs. Here, the duty to respect the sadhus way of life is greater than what

formalists consider to be a universal obligation to help or save a fellow man.

At its core, the Parable of sadhu examines the differences between individual ethics and

responsibilities, and those of a group . Had a sole moral hiker stumbled across the hypothermic

and weak sadhu, it seems likely that they would have felt an obligation to postpone their climb in

order to attempt to save his life. On the contrary, a groups collective ambitions and denial of

individual responsibility allowed the sadhu to be left alone with no certainty to the outcome of

his ill fated journey. Members of the group felt it necessary to provide basic aid and assistance to

the weak monk, but as part of a larger group, the individual ethical obligation to assist someone

in need appeared limited.

History is scattered with stories of corporate entities which have committed heinous and

deplorable practices in the name of efficiency and profit. Whether it be Exxonmobil's funding of

campaigns questioning global warming, after themselves making discoveries indicative of its

existence in order to strengthen profits, or Volkswagens choice to falsify emissions ratings on

its cars to pass regulation. Corporations have shown that given inadequate oversight, they may

succumb to unrealistic or unattainable goals and act unethically. While its relatively easy to pass

judgment as to whether or not an entire organizations activities should be condemned, far harder

is the decision of employees and stakeholders to be blamed and held accountable.

With these individuals coming from different cultures on the mountain, there was a lack

of shared individual framework, and a lack of an agreed-upon group ethic. In a situation with

such serious implications, its too big of a decision for one individual to handle, which holds true

with decision making at the corporate level. Without a clear leader, Stephen was the only

individual willing to take action, based on his moral obligation, but he was unable to gain the

support of others in the group. The same applies to an executive board, without a leader and a

clear course course of action, the company as a whole will suffer if ultimately nothing valuable is

accomplished. The lack of a shared framework of ethics on the mountain and its contribution to

the sadhus fate demonstrate the importance of having an established set of corporate ethical

standards and values.

When aiding the sadhu, there was not a threat of legal recourse against the group or an

individual for their respective actions, which also aided in the outcome. Without any external

forces to which they are held accountable, the individuals on the mountain were free to make

their decision to stay or leave the sadhu, whereas in a corporation, legal and financial

consequences will hold managers accountable. This high risk and high level of accountability

puts a heavy weight on a single manager, but a clear framework of what is ethically acceptable

allows managers comfort in taking risks. Such an ethical framework would likely have made

assisting the sadhu an easier task on the mountain, since the individuals wouldve had more

guidance on what should or should not be done.

In a corporation, there is an executive team in charge of managing all of the functions and

the employees of the company. For an optimal outcome, day to day business practices operate

from a utilitarian standpoint, focusing on whats best for the greatest number of people.

Managers focus on what will be best for the bottom line, for the employees, the shareholders,

themselves, and the customers, and success can be achieved when the company as a whole

focuses on meeting all of their best interests. On the other hand, a utilitarian approach of

justifying the means to an end may lead to decision making which is deemed in the best interest

of a group, while simultaneously justifying the mistreatment of others.

Paramount to all, is the existence of mutually shared ethical standards and the oversight

to see them carried out, whether that be internal or external to a group or corporation. The case of

the sadhu demonstrates how a group without an established ethical framework may fail to tend

adequately to the needs of all. Groups forming corporate entities face the same dilemma on a

daily basis, balancing the needs of stockholders, investors, employees, customers and all other

stakeholders. The ethics of the individual and of the whole are closely entwined with the

assumption of responsibility by decision makers, varying largely by the size or dynamic of a

group. Often, a groups decision may not align with the feelings of individuals within, as seen

with the case. Those who participate in groups that operate unethically are not necessarily bad

intentioned, but often simply lack the incentive or confidence to speak out and take action. Those

who disagree or voice their opinions, as with Stephen to McCoy, may face social ostracization or

real punishment for their disconformity. Thus, when corporate ethics fail, there is a need for

governing regulation which prevents unethical practices or protects those individuals who bring

attention to a corporations behaviour.


1. Hill, Charles W.L. Ethics in International Business [PowerPoint Slides] Retrieved from

2. Hill, Charles W. L. Global Business Today. New York: McGraw-Hill Irwin, 2014. Print.

3. McCoy, Bowen H. (May-June 1997). The Parable of the sadhu. Harvard Business
Review. Retrieved from