The Ego is Not Our Amigo
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.
The only thing scarier than our "dumpster fire" of a continental snowpack right now are the decisions I see humans making in the backcountry. I spend too much time out there. I’m seeing too much scary stuff. And it causes me to think a tremendous amount about the motivations and behaviors of others.
More backcountry recreationalists died this weekend in the American West.
It’s been a tough and deadly month with avalanche fatalities here in the San Juans and Aspen. Deaths in New Mexico, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming. Victims in Emery County Utah and in the La Sals above Moab. And it’s only fucking January!
I am growing quite weary of the reckless behavior that I all too often witness.
I watched eleven people blindly ascend an avalanche slope late in the day last Thursday. They were head down, stacked up and just going where the silly skin track went on a considerable danger day. I also had a guest tell me a tour was bullshit this weekend because it was too safe and too easy. “Yeah, I get the learning and all but it’s just not what I’m looking to do- I’m out here to shred nasty” he said.
With all this recent death in the mountains, with all the strain I see in the eyes of my colleagues and with all the pressure professionals share in keeping guests and students alive, it took everything in my being not to knock the fucker out.
The ego is not our amigo.
I’m reading Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow and his research and revelations come at an important time for me. His book addresses System One and System Two thinking and focuses on how human behavior is driven by heuristic traps. System One thinking is intuitive, emotional and fast. System Two is logical, slower and more deliberate. The author, a Nobel Prize winner for Economics goes to great lengths in highlighting both the benefits and great costs associated with fast thinking. He addresses key behavioral themes such as confirmation bias, associative thinking, behavioral priming, loss aversion, overconfidence, instant gratification, impulse control, power and peer influence. Throughout the book, Kahneman is trying to get us think about how we think. He wants us to recognize the traps that human beings quickly succumb to on the daily. As his book affirms, the ego in not our amigo.
This week’s blog post is by no means a holier than though rant. For I’m out there too. I'm out in an uncontrolled environment, thinking quickly, relying on intuition, acting on impulse. But I’m thinking about this approach a lot lately. The tremendous consequences of not getting it "right enough" in the mountains is often the subject of PM guide meetings and my personal, daily reflections. I think about the mistakes I’m making. I ponder all the uncertainty in it all. I’m trying to better attune my own grasp of both thinking systems. I’m trying to slow down and recognize what motivations and in the moment momentum is shaping my behavior and decisions.
But most days I’m still out there on snow, climbing high into the unpredictable and unforgiving realms of the alpine. I’m aware, accepting and afraid of the consequences.
And the irony is not lost on me, that in the face of all this scary and stupid, I’m still out there seeking turns. So I keep reminding myself.
The ego is not our amigo.