Parable of the Sadhu

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Practical Moral Philosophy for Lawyers

Bowen McCoy's Parable of the Sadhu

I have often wondered whether students of lawyer ethics might not be as well advised to study the ethics of doctors, nurses, businessmen and business women, church ministers, and journalists, even as they study the ethics of lawyers. If ordinary morality is going to have a place in the world of lawyering, we are going to need an ethics (and ethic) that reaches beyond the profession.

The stories that provide the most powerful moral lessons are sometimes about lawyers and sometimes not. Bowen McCoy is an American businessman and not a lawyer. He tells a story in the Harvard Business Review about his efforts to traverse and 18,000-foot peak in the Himalayas and an encounter with a holy man that might be of interest to lawyers. [Bowen H. McCoy, 61 (5) The Parable of the Sadhu, Harvard Business Review 103 (September/October, 1983)]. It was during his preparation for a final ascent of this Himalayan peak that he encountered a near-naked holy man--a Saudi--suffering from hypothermia and found himself focusing a "classic" moral dilemma. Bowen McCoy is a Wall Street realty executive, not a lawyer, but when he talks about ethics he talks a language we can all understand.

In "The Parable of the Sadhu," McCoy describes efforts of he and his companion, Stephen, an anthropologist, accompanied by a group of climbers, to traverse an 18,000-foot peak in order to reach the village of Muklinath, an ancient holy place. The peak was the highest mountain pass they had attempted to traverse in a sixty-day Nepal hike. Six years earlier, McCoy had attempted a similar climb and had been forced back by altitude sickness. The weather, on the day of the most recent attempt, was not good and McCoy feared they would not make it over the pass.

At 15,500 feet, it looked to me as if Stephen were shuffling and staggering a bit, which are symptoms of altitude sickness.... I felt strong, my adrenaline was flowing, but I...