Yesterday I read about a Canadian youngster who was reprimanded and sent home from school for stopping a bully who was threatening another child with a knife. “We don’t condone heroics in this school,” said the principal.
Now today I read about a father in the U.S. who was tasered for trying to save his infant son from a house fire. “It was for his own safety,” the police said.
This push to take all authority and give it to the state and state-approved proxies is more than troublesome. The decision to help someone in need is surely one of the highest callings for any human, and the decision to do that in spite of danger to the self is possibly the most human impulse we can ever have. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Protecting the Weak
The impulse to protect the weaker is a highly desirable part of a humane society, and reaches possibly its highest expression in the parent who willingly risks his own life for his child who is in danger. One might say the impulse that takes us out of a selfish, self-serving place, to a place where others are more important, is a critical one in creating a mature, functioning member of society.
The recent movie Flight with Denzel Washington explored this area: Washington’s character was substance-addicted and yet still able to function well as a pilot despite his selfish, hedonistic lifestyle, until disaster struck. He was able to save most of the people on his plane from a dreadful crash but several passengers died, his co-pilot was crippled, and a stewardess with whom he had a relationship was killed as well.
The question of whether he would have been able to save them all if he had been sober haunted him. He could have escaped the legal ramifications of his inebriety if he had sacrificed the reputation of the dead stewardess, but in the end his conscience would not allow him to do that and he protected her posthumous reputation by sacrificing his own freedom — a conscious and willing sacrifice for another that forced him to confront his own failings, get sober, and finally grow up as a result.
Protected from Ourselves
Yet we are being trained not only to prevent our children from acting on these human impulses that help them to mature into responsible adults, but relegated to acting like children ourselves, waiting on our powerful authority figures to make it all better.
Except when they don’t, as in this case, when the man’s infant son died of the injuries he sustained in the fire. Would the father have been able to save his son? Possibly; the adrenaline-drive of a protective parent should never be dismissed lightly. Would the father have just rushed to his own death? Well, that’s possible too … and I’m sure he knew that. He probably even thought the risk was worth it … but neither of those possible scenarios is actually the issue, which is: Should a government official be able to use force to stop a man from attempting to save his child even at risk to his own life?
What does it say about our society when those in charge attempt to stifle this quintessentially human impulse to aid and assist, tell us that we are not capable of saving ourselves much less others, and force us to wait upon the proper authorities to step in and save us all? To say I find this disturbing does not begin to approach my feelings on the matter.