Friday, August 13, 2004

"Psychiatrists fear hero copycats"

I marvel whenever I observe or experience uncommon valour as a common virtue. As cliché as this phrase is; when experienced, there is a resonance that echoes to the very marrow of the soul.

Yesterday, I read this:

"After 2 men step into danger to save women, psychiatrists fear hero copycats"

"People will read about this, see this other person and admire that person. They would like to be like them and when it's still strongly on their minds they are more likely mimic their brave behaviour," said Dennis Krebs, a professor of psychology at Simon Fraser University and an expert on altruism.

Most susceptible to copycat activity are teens at a stage of life when they're trying desperately to conform.

That worries Kulwant Riar, a forensic psychologist. "There's a fine line between bravery and stupidity. It's not a very good idea for civilians to intervene when dealing with criminals. We don't need the general public becoming vigilantes, somebody's going to get hurt," he said. Riar urged authorities to caution people to stand back and instead make a phone call right away."

These psychiatrists fear the heroics of ordinary people will inspire others to choose the heroic in themselves and act. They fear that that the general public will be vigilantes but a vigilante acts as policeman, judge, jury and executioner. That is not what these brave souls have done. They made a moral choice to act and to intervene in order to save a life. If all they did was make a phone call, would the police have arrived in time? No matter how quick policemen or firemen are to respond, seconds or minutes can literally mean the difference between life and death for another.

If you must act, call the police, let the police handle it, say these psychiatrists. No doubt there are occasions when that is the most prudent course of action, but if you take that train of thought and follow it through to the logical conclusion won’t we all lose the ability to find the heroic in ourselves, and then, who will choose to become the policeman, the fireman, the soldier?

Isn't it evident by now that where crime flourishes it is because ordinary citizens in those communities have lost the ability to take moral action? Should we allow ourselves to become another Sweden where a woman can be brutally stabbed to death by a lone assailant in a crowded department store because no one chooses to make a moral decision to act? Or should we be like Saudi Arabia, where a man can lie bleeding on the ground crying out for help and the crowd walks on by deaf to his pleas? When you consign your life to the government, you become merely a spectator to your own fate.

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