Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Lowest Common Denominator

“If you fear making anyone mad, then you ultimately probe for the lowest common denominator of human achievement.” - Jimmy Carter – 39th President of the USA

Clubtread - a forum noted for pandering to the lowest common denominator - recently featured a discussion loosely about decision making and group management in the mountains spurred by a first hand report of an avalanche in the backcountry out of Smithers, BC. The overwhelming majority (in fact everyone) were in favor of that worn-out dictum that the lowest common denominator should decide what happens on the trip.

This simplistic thinking not only ignores the difference between real and perceived risk but more importantly robs people of the opportunity to reach their full potential. The explosion of adventure oriented education speaks to the power and transformative potential that can be realized when people are coached to move through some discomfit and even out-right fear in the mountain environment.

I suspect that many of those who subscribe to the philosophy of allowing the lowest common denominator to determine the outcome of their trips are only too happy to have some reason to back down and back off so that they do not need to face their own fears. Even better, they can garner a feel good holier than thou kick out of backing off while continuing with the farcical belief that if not for the lowest common denominator they would surely have made that summit. 

 Climbing Mount Colossal on a ski trip in the Adamants

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