Thoughts for No One in Particular

The myth of the absolute

“At that time, we judged that it was absolutely safe… we truly regret the judgement now.”


This was a quote at a press conference yesterday by a high school coach for mountain-climbing, who lost seven students and a teacher to avalanche during training walks in deep snow this past Monday morning in my homeland.


When I first heard it, I could not believe what he was saying. I specifically remember the weather forecast warning of rough weather early Monday morning, and it is said that there were a couple of avalanches being reported at nearby mountains the day before, so even I, who has never gone mountain-climbing, would not have thought that it was “absolutely safe” to take the students out on the snowy mountains.


Moreover, the training walks took place in open space, where there were nowhere to hide in case of avalanche, and nobody was wearing an electronic device to tell their whereabouts if they got swept away by snow. How in the world could he judge that it was absolutely safe with this little safety measures?!


We call our overconfidence in the absolute that does not really exist “the myth of the absolute” in my mother tongue.

Maybe it arises from arrogance in the depth of expertise and breadth of experience possessed.

Maybe it is created into a credible story by conceit of never having failed before.

And maybe it is told as if it is true because we want to believe it is true.


But a myth is a myth. We must not take at face value something that can never be verified.

Maybe we ought to be most careful when “the myth of the absolute” starts to be told, just to be on the safe side.


I do not know what upset me more – that an experienced mountain climber like him believed in “the myth of the absolute” and thought he could achieve “absolute safety,” or that his confidence in his judgement was absolutely unfounded, taking neither necessary nor sufficient safety precautions.


Or maybe I was upset at something much more fundamental… maybe his absolute lack of consideration for keeping safe the bright futures of his students.


Maybe if he cared even a little about the hopes and dreams these young minds had for their futures, we would have been able to verify how their stories turned out some years later.

I hope that the myths of the futures of the victims will be told as the absolute truth that “the myth of the absolute” can never be trusted, and pray that that would make them rest a little easier.


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