"You are going to freeze. Bring two sweaters and a jacket when you climb Mount Batur." This is what a Russian, a person who has experienced extreme cold, told me the night before I embarked for Mount Batur. As someone who came to Bali to escape even the slightest sensation of cold, this opinion caused chills to run up my back. As if foreshadowing the cold to come.
Luckily she was wrong, and I had one of my best experiences in Bali!
If you want to see what it's like to climb the Mount Batur volcano in perfect conditions with a guide who claims his father is Bruce Lee, then watch my video (and make sure your sound is on). It does a great job at showcasing the energy and joy that our whole group experienced during the trek.
"People Are Not Bad"
I want to preface the rest of this post by saying that it is not a typical travel blog post about every aspect of our hike up the Mount Batur volcano. Other people have published some great posts that give you all the necessary details about an ascent up Mount Batur. The only thing I will say is that anyone with a reasonable level of fitness can do it. And you will not freeze, don't let other people frighten you about this. Bring an extra sweater and you will be 100% A-okay.
What I am most interested in talking about are a few things that our guide, Manku, said during the trek. Unfortunately I didn't capture his wise words on video (only his ninja skills), so I have to talk about what he said from memory.
One of the things he said which made a big impression on me is that people are not bad. Before I dive into this statement I need to give you a bit of context.
About five of us were standing next to Mount Batur's picture perfect caldera. The morning light perfectly illuminated its grassy green slopes, and in the distance we could see Lake Batur's emerald blue waters, as well as the imposing Mount Agung.
The morning light also illuminated pieces of garbage strewn along the steepest parts of the caldera. One of the people on the trek made the observation that some people are bad because they throw garbage where it doesn't belong.
After more than 2,000 ascents of Mount Batur, this was a sentiment our guide had heard many times before. He lovingly looked at us and said something along the lines that the act of throwing garbage into the caldera does not make a person bad. It only means that they don't realize the negative effects it has on the ecosystem, or how long it takes plastic to break down. Or that it's just a bad habit formed through no fault of their own.
In Bali, waste management is a huge issue. Everywhere on the island, especially rivers, it is easy to find heaps of plastic packaging. As our guide explained it, plastic has only been in Bali for the past 25 years. This makes it very new.
Before plastic everything was wrapped in banana leaves. The Balinese are accustomed to this biodegrable packaging, and they haven't yet had enough time to form a new habit. The new habit being the disposal of plastic and other garbage in an environmentally friendly manner.
Our guide, being a self described man of the earth, said that he used to descend down the caldera's steep slopes to pick up garbage. Now that he has a child he doesn't want to risk his life doing this. Instead he educates kids in his village about taking care of where they put their garbage.
And I have to say, he also does a spectacular job at educating tourists who are too quick to judge what they see around them. He is able to do this so effectively because he comes from a place of compassion.
After my intro and video you probably didn't expect this stream of thought about the garbage issue in Bali. But the reason I focused on this small segment from a sensational day climbing Mount Batur is that it sparked some powerful takeaways for me. Here they are.
The belief that people are not bad is in some ways so natural. Yet in other ways it grates at an understanding of the world where many things are diametrically opposed. Good and bad. Rich and poor. Success and failure. Love and hate. There are more of these opposing forces than I wish to list, but it is a fact of life that we are continuously exposed to these false dichotomies.
I say false because our world almost never exists in absolutes. And calling someone bad for an action they took only serves to place them in a box from which it is difficult to escape. From which it is difficult to see them in a different light.
The solution to this, as far as I can tell, is to categorize actions and not people. For the two are separate.
At the root, I think actions are caused by circumstance, events, and education. If you also believe this assumption to be true, then much of what we do is influenced by things from our past which are outside of our control. We don't chose the culture we are born into, our families level of material wealth, or the problems and opportunities we inherit. Yet all of these strongly influence the actions we ultimately take.
Of course there is free will, and individuals are responsible for the actions they take. And because of this fact it is intuitive to judge a person based on their actions alone.
But judging others actions does not make the garbage disappear. Instead it creates a dichotomy of good and bad, superior and inferior. Empathy reveals where someone else is coming from, and where they can be supported to make actions that are more positive.
What the guide demonstrated to me is that empathy is the most helpful response. He understands why Balinese throw garbage in pristine places, AND he doesn't judge them.
Instead he looks for how he can make a difference. And for him he is able to make a difference by educating kids in his village. By achieving this small win he is able to make a meaningful and lasting contribution toward a big win. Solving the garbage problem in Bali.
My point is this. We just need more compassion for our fellow humans, and to look at ways where we can make a difference. No matter how small or big.
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