Survival of the Fittest?

By Duane Shank 9-02-2011

Imagine. You're on a backpacking trip, hiking through deserted countryside on a hot day. You've been prudent, and have just enough water to get you to the next campsite that evening. Then you come across another hiker, short of water, who is beginning to show signs of stress. You don't know if there is any water nearby until you get to the campsite. What do you do?

The question was posed in a recent story about hiking in the Grand Canyon, where it regularly occurs. A spokesman at the Grand Canyon remembered at least one case in which someone died "trying to provide more help than they could physically afford to provide."

Some of the answers given by hikers were:

"If it came down to having enough for myself or helping someone, I'd have to drink my own water. It's an ethical decision. You hate to think of things like survival of the fittest, but it does come down to that."

"If giving up water would endanger myself to the point that I would also become a heat casualty, I would not share. Rather, I would search for help before one unfortunate hiker turned into two."

"It's just like in an airplane when a stewardess tells you to secure your own mask before you help people. It sounds selfish, but it's right."

So what would you do?

Duane Shank is senior policy advisor at Sojourners.

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