Climb with Compassion

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The Wisdom of Being Both Strong and Kind, a free eBook by Luis Benitez and Bruce Kasanoff

Transcript of Climb with Compassion

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  • 2 Climb with Compassion: The Wisdom of Being Both Strong and Kind by Luis Benitez and Bruce Kasanoff Please send your friends and colleagues to They can get their own free copy there. Copyright 2013, Luis Benitez and Bruce Kasanoff. All rights reserved.
  • 3 Foreword This is a short handbook about compassion. Compassion is what gives life meaning. It is what makes us human. We can survive without it, but we cannot thrive without it. You will forget this. We certainly have, many times. Neither of us is as kind, strong or compassionate as we could be. Each of us can do better. It is extremely hard work to remember the importance of compassion. The main reason we wrote this guide was simply to give you an effective way, year after year, to remind yourself about the importance of bringing compassion into your work and personal life. This work is a collaboration between the two of us, and it draws upon both of our experiences. Luis not only is a mountain guide, but also conducts leadership training through Wharton and for employees of Vail Resorts. Bruce has spent many years writing and speaking about the value of business relationships. Both of us speak at events around the globe. To make this piece as clear and simple as possible, we chose to write this handbook in Luis voice. Luis Benitez Bruce Kasanoff
  • 4 You do not live in a bubble Compassion makes you stronger. Ive summited Mt. Everest six times, and have reached the top of six of the Seven Summits a cumulative 32 times. I climbed with the blind athlete Erik Weihenmayer to his historic 2001 Everest summit. When I first met Erik, he was an English teacher from Arizona who had done a little climbing, but who harbored a dream to be the first blind person to climb Mt. Everest. He had a couple of friends from Colorado all mountain guides and was looking to assemble a team to make his dream a reality. Erik wasnt looking for hotshot climber/athletes; he was looking for outdoor educators who were compassionate adventurers. He wanted people who could understand both his challenges and the depth of his desire to dispel false limitations. As we started to develop our team, word got out and the naysayers started coming out of the woodwork. We heard chorus after chorus of, It cant be done, it shouldnt be done, its a stunt. Wave after wave of negativity swept over us. What solidified us wasnt the goal of the summit, or fame or fortune. It was compassion for Eriks desire to be bigger than anyone thought he could be. We werent thinking summit or else, but rather to give the effort our best. No matter what, we wanted to come back healthy and as friends. That was our overarching goal. At long last, we were on Everest. Right away, we faced one of the most dangerous passages. In between Base Camp and Camp One, we had to cross the Khumbu Icefall, which lies at the foot of the glacier, where it starts to melt. Ordinarily, it would take a climber about six hours to go through this treacherous stretch filled with teetering, tottering chunks of ice. That day, it took us thirteen hours to lead Erik through the ice, and I led him for most of this time. Near the very end, right below Camp One, there was a tiny crevasse. If you fell into it, at most your little toe might go in. So I didnt bother to mention it to Erik. But his foot caught the edge, and he started to fall. When I reached to catch him, I accidentally cracked him in the nose with the trekking pole that was in my hand, giving him a bloody nose.
  • 5 Not much later, we were finally in Camp One, and I couldnt stop apologizing. I felt absolutely horrible. Erik could easily have sat there and said: this sucks, I cant trust you. But instead of doubting me, he invested his effort in cheering the rest of us up. He offered me compassion. By the end of the trip, Erik could get through the Icefall in five hours. The bulk of my professional career has been spent guiding clients towards the summits of the worlds biggest mountains. Notice that I didnt say to the summits. Even though our goal is always to summit, compassion dictates how close we actually get. For example, one of the first things I tell my clients is that they are not my ultimate clients. My ultimate clients, I explain, are your families and friends. My job is to deliver you safely back to the people who love you. Grasping this requires my clients to have compassion for their loved ones. It means understanding the difference between what they want, and what is best for the people around them, both at home and on the mountain. You do not live in a bubble. What you do affects others. Of course, my clients want to summit. Sometimes one thinks that, If I just keep my nose to the grindstone, I can get there. My response is, If you do that, you are going to die. Climbing big mountains requires focus on the present. You have to be fully aware of whats happening right here, right now. In dissuading a client from a never-stop-moving mindset, Im trying to be compassionate with my client - to keep him alive, and also to get him to understand theres a bigger picture out there than the one of which he is aware at that moment. Compassion underlies all my decisions and actions on the mountain, but it is not the only thing that guides my actions. Ive turned people around on Everest a couple of hundred feet from the top, and at that point there is no time for compassion. If I tell you to turn it around, thats it. We can talk later. Accepting this requires letting go of ego. That moment before you turn around is your egos last stand. It is also the time when you have the greatest opportunity to learn a deeper lesson about compassion, towards yourself and others.
  • 6 You could spend weeks or even years holding onto anger or resentment about not making the top. You might direct this anger towards me as your guide, the weather, or the mountain in general. What does this get you, aside from a burning pit in your stomach? In moments like these, you will see how much strength compassion requires. It takes tremendous fortitude to choose compassion over ego. It takes even more to be proud of your decision, but pride is exactly what you should feel. Not everyone agrees with me. Some people sneer at compassion. On the mountain or in the midst of a flatland goal, they are filled with self-interest. To me, this is shortsighted; it limits how much they can achieve, because, in the long run, your lack of compassion always extracts a big price. This guide is not about how you can climb a mountain. It is about your life and your career.
  • 7 Fleeting success vs. lasting success There are quite a few endeavors that you can power through with sheer guts and determination. People do this all the time at work, gritting their teeth and surpassing goals. You may hate your job, your boss, or both but you have to earn a living, so you power through. You can spend your whole life pursuing individual success, and you can accomplish it. You can make a lot of money, live in a big house, and take extravagant vacations. Not to be insulting, but this is fleeting success. Its not the sort of success that comes when compassion guides your life, and when you open your eyes and your heart wide enough that you not only see what is happening to the people around you, but you also do something to link their success to yours. This is lasting success. Why? Because when you help change the lives of people around you for the better, the success you spawn will continue to grow and thrive long after you are gone. If you dont believe me, invest a few hundred dollars sending antibiotics to Zambia or to buy books for girls in Ghana who lack them. It always takes tenacity to succeed, but lasting success requires the added element of compassion. Can mere tenacity enable you to set a goal and achieve it? Yes. Can mere tenacity bring lasting success to your life, and to the lives of others? No way. The higher you aim, the more important compassion becomes. In business and society, the lack of compassion sinks many ventures. This lack makes employees realize that management could not care less about them. It makes team members lose interest in acting like a team. It makes entire countries rise up against their leaders. But when compassion guides, the world shifts just a bit in a different, more positive direction. One of my good friends is Mama Zara of Tanzania, otherwise known as Mrs. Zainab Ansell. In 1987, she started ZARA Tours and began organizing tours to Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Meru. Today, Mama employs about 1,500 porters and 88 registered guides. Being
  • 8 a porter is a very basic, entry-level job. You carry supplies up and down Kilimanjaro. Mama could spend the minimum for porters, and simply forget about them once climbing season is over. But thats not what she does. Instead, she sets up a personal bank account for each porter. Bear in mind, many of these people have never even seen a bank. But she feels that if you pay them on the spot, the money is soon gone and nothing changes in their lives. In her mind, she is setting them up for the future. I do not know of a single porter who has ever quit Mamas company to go work for one of her competitors. Every year, Mama selects about ten porters to join her apprentice guide program. This benefits her, because it builds her ranks of guides, but it also gives porters a means to advance. She and her husband own four different hotels for mountain climbers. As guide