Monday, July 03, 2006

Heroes run the other way

I've been thinking for some time about heroes, and have come to some conclusions.

Allow me to note early-on that I'm not talking about comic book superheroes. I don't think it very heroic to be a hero when there's no serious risk involved. An average, everyday cop who does his best is more heroic than any fool who flies at the speed of light, is impervious to bullets, and has "eye lazors." (But Batman rocks)

I'm talking about the everyday heroes who live their lives making the lives of others safer or better.

There are, of course, different kinds of heroes. Heroes who sacrifice their time to help others, heroes who sacrifice their safety to help others, and heroes who sacrifice their assets to help are worthy of this title.

I should note that some extra conditions apply for hero qualification.

  • What you give must be unconditional.
  • What you give must inconvenience you.
  • What you give must be a conscience decision.

I think these conditions are fair. You can't be a hero if you help someone because you expect a reward of some sort. What you give must be a sacrifice, donating $100 to the salvation army doesn't make you a hero; but having to eat instant soup for the rest of the month because of it, just might. People who accidentally foil an attack, or put themselves at perceived risk without knowing the situation should not accept the title of hero, though many do.
If anyone has any more good conditions, please let me know!

Academic definition of a hero, c/o
"A person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life"

Real world definition of a hero, c/o my dad (LA Sheriff):
"When people hear gunshots, see fires, or violence, they run away. The natural impulse is to want to be away from danger, and protect yourself. The funny thing is, policemen and firemen run the other way, towards the danger... People run because they're afraid for themselves. We run because we're afraid for other people." (paraphrased)

Heroes run the other way. Against all their better judgment, they run the other way. Against their fear of bodily harm, they run the other way. Against all natural instincts, they run the other way.

I think there's a special distinction for heroes who put their lives on the line for others, and they will be my focus.

Remember that these people are not just firemen or policemen, they're your friends and neighbors. People who go to work every day, and get stuck in traffic like the rest of us. People who, when someone calls for help, fly out the door (even if they can't literally). Some of these people may not have made the conscience decision to be heroes, some may not even think they are heroes, but when the time comes, they are. I suspect that most heroes are just hard wired that way; the idea of not helping people in need is instinctively bizarre to them. I think the rest of the heroes are charged with the task of being heroes, and permanently change the way they think to become those hard wired heroes.

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." - Edmund Burke

This means that everyone has the capacity to become a hero. Someone need only consider the possibility of being called upon, consider the actions they may be forced to take, consider what they may be forced to encounter, consider the danger involved, consider the repercussions, and make their decision.

Make your decision now, or soon. Don't wait until lives are on the line.

If you've decided that the risk is too great, no one can fault you for wishing to be safe. But please continue reading and stay prepared anyways, the next person who may need you to be their hero could be someone you care about.

If you've calculated the burden, and still decided that you would run the other way, you need only prepare yourself mentally, physically, and materially.

Consider different emergency situations, and how you would handle them. Take CPR and first aid lessons, and prepare yourself for what you might see in an emergency situation. Stay aware of your surroundings; which is the best way out of a building, what are the other exits, where did you see a fire extinguisher, etc. Use the internet to research skills you may need, and learn all you can. Change the way you think; your instincts may not agree with what your planned actions are, in times of stress you will revert to your basest instinct: self-preservation. Think about different situations and visualize yourself doing what needs to be done, retrain your brain.

Be capable of running a few miles, keep your stamina up, and make sure you are able to carry someone to safety. Develop muscle memory; in dangerous situations your body will not always be able to react the way you want to, practicing movements or actions will help your body react without thought in times of stress or danger.

Prepare for as many situations as you can. Always have a cell phone available. Keep first aid kits in your car and at your home. There are emergency hammers that can break the safety glass on a car window in the event of a vehicle fire. Keep a small fire extinguisher in your car. Always carry a sharp, reliable blade to cut people free from danger (seatbelts, clothing, shoelaces, and hair can get caught anywhere). Have a flash light available, and check the batteries on it every few months. Keep a length of sturdy rope or cord available. Consider applying for a permit to carry a gun to stop violent criminals from harming others. A little preparation can go a long way. Being unable to help someone because you didn't have a $10 tool in your car is a terrible feeling. We're tool-using animals, being empty handed in the world is dangerous!


So, why all the hero talk? There were a few situations that made me think about this, and made me make some decisions about myself.

While in Cancun, my girlfriend and I were sitting in our room talking about something unimportant, when I heard someone wailing faintly. I perked up and listened harder and heard someone sobbing, "help me..." I can remember very clearly exactly how it sounded; and it was instantly clear that the person calling was injured and in danger. I ran out the door and stopped to listen for another call to determine which way to run, after I determined the direction I ran down the hall, and in the process kicked off my sandals to run faster. When I got around a bend in the hall I ran into at least 5 other men intensely trying to locate the room the call was coming from. One man ran up and told us the room number that she called out earlier, we started pounding on the door yelling for the occupant to open up. We could hear the calls coming from inside the room. A big guy with dark hair turned to the group and said that we'd have to break it down, and someone from inside called that he'd open the door. He was wearing a towel and opened the door partially with the latch still on, as soon as his head appeared everyone started yelling that he'd better open the door, and he did. This guy looked like a pro-wrestler, muscles bulging out of every part of his body with long hair shaved on the sides, and pulled back into a pony tail; at this point I began to wonder if five guys was going to be enough to subdue him physically. He put his hands up and stepped back, saying that he didn't do anything (I'd learn later from someone else that he was bleeding from the head or neck). We pushed our way into the bathroom immediately adjacent to the front door, and found the woman in the corner wearing a towel, bleeding from the head and nose, crying. She was helped from the room, and into the hall where someone else consoled her. Security had been called, but had yet to arrive. I left after it was clear the situation was under control, and there were plenty of other people around.

My brother-in-law was also there, and we later talked about being proud that so many people ran to help someone in need. But I wondered if so many people would have come to help in a more everyday situation. He said that he thought he heard something, and was trying to figure out what it was when he heard someone in flip-flops running down the hall when he realized it was me; he said that he'd never forget that sound. I thought about it and figured that once he connected the moans with the sound of me running down the hall, he realized that someone urgently required help.

He probably said that he'd never forget it because it was the first time he'd been in a situation like that. This should not be unexpected, as many of us live in relative safety, and may not have experienced these kinds of events. It was the first time (that I recall) that I'd been in a situation like that, but I reacted in a manner that made me proud, and made me think about how people react to danger or calls for help

The other situation was more recent. I was in the apartment, cleaning my gun after a productive trip to the range with the windows open and shades drawn. I heard a one of those screams that you can't mistake, and before I knew it, had kicked the chair out from under me, and was out the door on the railing listening and looking around the courtyard. I could see some other people opening their shades to take a look around. After about 10 seconds of silence, I heard the same scream which, this time, ended in laughter and whooping. It seemed someone was getting overexcited about a sports game on television. I looked around again, and everyone looking outside had stopped. It was a false alarm, but I was surprised at how ready I was. (I was also glad I didn't try to assemble my gun or bring it out with me before assessing the situation!) This got me thinking about how many people would come to help if someone needed it. I became acutely aware that if that was not a false alarm, and someone really did need help, I could have been the only one on the scene. I began to think about how to prepare for something like that, and wondered if I could handle or stabilize the situation. I thought about domestic situations, which are ALWAYS thorny. In situations where the victim doesn't want to press charges or even accuse their attacker, I could be viewed as the attacker and threatened with legal action and jail. I thought about the possibility and began to waiver in my resolve, until I realized the alternative; having to live with the knowledge that I could have stopped something terrible from happening but did nothing.

I decided I would always run the other way.

It's not like I'm going to start wearing tights, or anything (though I've yet to decide on the cape), but I will strive to keep myself more prepared for situations.

No comments: