Originally published May 17, 2010.
What goes around comes around. Karma. The Golden Rule. Give and take. Pay it forward. Quid pro quo. Cause and effect. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
No matter which way you put it — based in science, religion and spirituality, psychology, human nature — the concept is the same. Your actions (and inactions) have consequences. As a child, we are taught to treat other people as we would like to be treated. Share your toys, so that if you want to play with someone else’s toy, they will want to share with you. Comfort someone who is upset, so that when you need comforting, they will be there for you.
As an adult, these simple concepts become weighted with complexities: politics, familial obligation, autonomy and independence. Once upon a time, when people lived in small communities and knew all of their neighbors, the logic in considering the consequences of your actions was simple. If you wronged Joe, Joe would remember, and tell everyone else. If you helped Joe when he needed it, Joe would remember, and be around to return the favor. Nowadays, our communities, where they exist, are disjointed. We have sub-communities of family (whom we may rarely see), the office, perhaps the neighborhood (but that is increasingly rare in cities). It becomes harder to connect your actions with direct consequences because of the diminished contact and commitment we have with those around us. We find ourselves either having to work harder to convince ourselves to lend a hand, or work harder to establish and become part of a true community.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: hikers and outdoorsy people have a natural community. It comes from having a similar interest, but I also think there’s a certain type of personality that revels in being outdoors. I have never come across a hiker on a trail who was unfriendly. We say hello, check in to make sure things are going all right, offer to snap a photo, give advice about the trail, and so forth. I have never found a community so willing to share information and help each other out, even though we’re a bunch of utter strangers who know nothing about each other aside from the fact that we yearn for the trail.
A few weeks ago, I talked about Rule No. 10, asking for help when you need it. The “Good Stuff” side of Rule No. 10 is that, when you ask for help while hiking and camping, you don’t need to be embarrassed that you couldn’t handle something on your own, because chances are, the person you’re asking has asked for help themselves. For every time that you need assistance, you’ll find opportunities to give assistance to someone else.
The wonderful part about all of this is that, with each instance in which you lend a hand or ask for one, you’re reinforcing the community. While you still may not see immediate or direct effects of your actions — i.e., that guy you helped may not be the one to help you out when you need it — because, as a community, we have all needed assistance at one time or another, we’re happy to repay the favor in whatever direction it’s needed. Then, we can trust that when we do need a hand, there will be one available.
It’s the cycle of hiking life. Embrace it. And the next time you need help, just remember that you’ll be able to help someone else around the next corner.
© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.