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The parable of the sadhu sample essay


An American businessman (Bowen H. McCoy) meets a dying sadhu (Indian holy man) while on a climbing expedition at Nepal with a friend (Stephen) and some other groups (New Zealanders, Swiss, and Japanese). He reviews the various reactions of the groups (including the porters and tour guides) and the conflict they go through before deciding how and to what extent they would help the dying man.

The businessman later draws a correlation between the behaviors of corporate organizations when faced with ambiguous or difficult situations that call into play the ethics of the firm.

This paper will review and analyze the tripod framework of “someone”, “situation” and “self” as relates to the conflict in the parable of the sadhu and how it extends in application to the business setting.


The “someone” in this parable is the sadhu, the “situation” was whether the persons involved should help the dying sadhu and to what extent, the “self” is each of the persons faced with the decision.

The main issue is that everyone (the Americans, New Zealanders, Swiss, and Japanese) felt this was a None Zero sum situation such that only one party could achieve their goal. In this case, the “self” goal was to reach the apex during their hiking trip. For the helpers like the sherpars, the “self” goal was to make a living and maintain their status in the community by bringing the group to the mountain safe and sound). Some the excuses given were that there was no clear leader.

It was later on that the dual concern model came into play, when Stephen, the American, and later Bowen started reflecting on the situation. The dual concern model is one that deals with conflict management. It suggests that people involved in conflicts are driven by two types on concern: concern about their own outcomes and concern about other’s outcomes.

The dilemma was whether everyone’s concerns couldn’t have been addressed while saving the life of the sadhu at the same time.

A middle of the road decision was taken which was for everyone to do the barest minimum but since no-one was sure that the sadhu had lived, the sadhu’s concerns had not been met.

My recommendation for resolving the conflict is to have applied the dual concern model.

I believe that just giving the sadhu clothing and food and leaving him in the sun (having confirmed he had eye hand coordination) was not enough.

I believe that they could have gone one step further and carried the sadhu for two days back to the village. Most likely the outcome could still have been an interesting experience (the outcome sought by going on the trip) while getting involved with the villagers in the care of the sadhu. Stephen and Bowen could have done this with the support of the group because the decision needed was a group decision, not an individual one.

Lessons for business organizations

Two lessons that businesses gain from this parable are:
The first lesson is that companies need to create leaders. These are people who understand, interpret and manage the corporate value system.

These leaders need to resolve conflict, be tolerant of ambiguity, stress and change and have a strong sense of purpose for themselves and for their organization.

The reason for this is that organizations need to have mutually accepted, shared values especially when the organization faces stress. It is during these periods of stress that the values of the organization are revealed.
The next lesson is that corporations need to support individuals with a thoughtful set of personal values because they provide the foundation for a corporate culture. This is so that the organization can be made up of ethical persons. The more of such people that exist in the organization, the easier it is to change the values of the group.

If this support does not exist, people will not know how to act appropriately and may even revert to acting in accordance with Gresham’s law of currency. Unfortunately, if the behaviour of individuals in previous incidents of this kind have been of a negative nature, then the next set of persons faced with this situation are likely to replicate the negative behaviour.


The essence of this article is to present the fact that ambiguous and difficult situations always arise in the individual’s life as well as in corporations.

Both individuals and corporations need to come up with a plan on how to deal with ambiguous situations. This is needed because sometimes these situations end up being crisis situations.

Such a plan will involve defining leadership and establishing support for individuals with positive values. It however should go further than the utilitarian response of “the greatest good for the greatest number”. It may need the individual or firm to take a stand.

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