So, are you a hero?


charles-ramsey2-44dd314adefda68df10ed50f821337a76ed5d8c7-s6-c10In 1944 when the Germans were deporting Jews, Raoul Wallenberg a young Swedish diplomat would climb on top of freight trains and run along the cars handing out documents, fake but real enough to convince the Nazis that the recipients were under Swedish protection.  Wallenberg would then jump off the train and demand that these people be released with him.  On one occasion, the German soldiers were instructed to shoot Wallenberg on sight, but impressed by his courage they shot over his head as a warning instead.  How Raoul Wallenberg  a young man from one of Sweden’s most prominent families ended up saving tens of thousands of Jews from the Holocaust is a story of ingenuity, courage and chutzpah.  Sadly his own fate remains unknown.

Every day on my way to work I pass a small park that says ‘Raoul Wallenberg reserve’ and never thought much about it, until I recently learnt about his heroism when the Australian Government announced  that they were recognising him as Australia’s first honorary citizen.

More recently Charles Ramsey (pictured above) became a national hero in America.  Ramsey  was famously eating McDonald’s on his porch when he heard cries for help and  went to investigate and helped break down a door to rescue Amanda Berry and two other women who had been held captive  for a decade in a cellar in Ohio, Cleveland.  Ramsey offered a ray of hope in a bleak, dark story and dealt with the attention using humour even saying ‘I knew something was wrong when a white girl ran straight into a black man’s arms’!

Of course given the age we live in, Ramsey has become an immediate Internet sensation with McDonald’s saluting him on twitter, YouTube videos etc.  Even his employer Hodge’s Cleveland, the local restaurant where he works as a dishwasher, has started making “Cleveland’s Hero” T-shirts featuring Ramsey’s face. Proceeds from the shirts will go to the victims.  One fan has had Ramsey’s face tattooed on his leg, giving hero worship a whole new meaning.  Ramsey  immediately dismissed any offer of the reward money saying that he just did the right thing, adding ‘Give it to the girls’.

And closer to home an everyday scenario that would test the hero in us.  It seemed just like another day on Wooloowin platform in Brisbane’s north side, when a passenger waiting on the platform slipped and fell on the tracks, minutes before the arrival of the next train.  Student nurse, Kate Ashby made a split second decision and jumped on the tracks to rescue the man, saving a life but risking her own to do so.  Kate when interviewed said she was acting on instinct but also how she rang her classmates later to say she would be late but had a good excuse!  Kate Ashby is being commended for her bravery.  In this chilling footage we witness how Kate takes the lead and this energises other passengers who are probably in shock to help.

Sadly it doesn’t often turn out well for heroes.  In 2007, Brendan Keilar  a Melbourne city solicitor, was killed in front of horrified rush-hour CBD bystanders after he tried to intervene in an altercation involving a gunman and a young woman.  It was heart breaking seeing images of his young children at his funeral a few days later and also moving watching his 9 year old son accepting a bravery award for his father’s heroic actions a year later.

Interestingly a psychologist interviewed on TV said while we all like to imagine we would do the right thing, we simply can’t predict how we would respond unless we are in the actual situation.  So in situations like this would you freeze, flee or step in and be a hero?  I’m unsure how I would respond, I do know one thing for sure though.  People like Raoul Wallenberg, Charles Ramsey, Kate Ashby & Brendan Keilar make me proud to be human…and that’s not something we get to feel often.

 

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11 Comments
  • Cliff Moir
    Reply

    I live in Sydney but years ago I travelled often to Melbourne on Business.
    I found a lovely Hotel at Five ways in Kew Melb.
    I often stayed there.
    One morning I woke particularly early and got showered and dressed early and went for a walk.
    I came across the Raoul Wallenburg memorial in the small reserve there at Five ways.
    I read the plaque and as fascinated by this man I had never heard of. Then I read all about his accomplishments during WW11, and was very impressed with his bravery.
    R.I.P. Raoul wherever you may lie as you are a true HERO in the full sense of the word.
    I am so pleased that the Australian Government has made him our first Honorary Citizen

    • Yamini Naidu
      Reply

      Thanks Cliff, you echo my sentiment. It took the Australian government recognising him, for so many of us to learn about his heroism. Very inspiring.
      Best wishes
      Yamini

  • Lesley
    Reply

    Good article- after hearing the story of the woman’s act of bravery in the UK on tv, my twelve year old son and I discussed it in the car on the way to school. His view was so simple – that the woman had thought about the lives of other people before her own and that if we all did that as humans, there would be no more war or suffering. Made me wonder why a child can see this but adults so often can’t?

    • Yamini Naidu
      Reply

      Lesley I was moved by the wisdom and compassion shown by your son, and at the young age of 12. All of us adults and world leaders have much to learn from his insight. He must be reflecting the values he has been brought up with, which should make you a proud parent. Thank you so much for sharing this with us, both Gabrielle and I have young family and plan to share this with them.
      Best wishes
      Yamini

  • Reply

    I think we have to have the courage as human beings to look through the alternative lens at the acts first mentioned in this article. We must also have the courage to point to the persons who filmed this on the ‘phones and ask them their motives. Why would you do such a thing? The barbaric acts in Woolwich are war crimes. We should look upon the two perpetrators of this crime as soldiers. Some, and I accept it’s a minority, of the American and British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have carried out similar barbaric acts, having their photographs taken next to dead Taliban fighters. There are war crimes too. These acts cause remarkable distress to families who are already living in poverty – similar distress to the families of the dead soldier. Perhaps it’s a heroic act simply to cry for an end to war, and to the illegal occupation of foreign lands. Those soldiers are put their by our politicians.

  • Reply

    Great article Yamini – and so thought provoking. I too have no idea how I would respond in a situation but I think we should be recognising these acts of “heroism” more often. Who knows what changes could be introduced by such a simple thing.

    • Yamini Naidu
      Reply

      Thanks Charly, you are so right, it makes all better people when we acknowledge and celebrate acts of heroism, all these people are wonderful role models not only for our kids but for us adults too!
      Best wishes
      Yamini

  • Michael
    Reply

    Extremely moved by this post. Thank you Yamini and Gabrielle.

    • Yamini Naidu
      Reply

      Thanks Michael, it’s good to know there are still good people in the world, who will step up and stand for all of us.
      Best wishes
      Yamini

  • Reply

    Excellent topic – it would be interesting to explore the natural tendancy of people to know if you could rely on them for help.

    I wanted to share a little example. A few years ago an elderly lady had a fall down three of four stairs and cut herself up pretty badly. She slouched up along the wall, bleeding and crying to herself and many morning commuters just walked around her, some turning their nose up, others looking away almost in disgust. A young delivery man stopped with a bottle of water and a hand full of tissues to assist the lady, he even rang for an ambulance on his mobile phone without thinking twice. When the ambulance arrived he handed over a business card and asked that he be contacted with an update on the lady’s condition. He then disappeared into the throng of commuters and went about his day. For the few minutes that his life was disrupted I am sure he felt a sense of pride within himself. As it turned out the lady had suffered a heart attack and as a result fell down the stairs unable to remain balanced. She rang to thank him personally as he had undoubtedly saved her life, obviously he was shocked and even felt ashamed that he didn’t do more. Does it make him a hero for doing what any caring community member should have done?

    • Yamini Naidu
      Reply

      Matt thank you for sharing this example it was both distressing to read and humbling to learn of at least one person helping.
      I’m not sure where humanity, everyday kindness ends and heroism begins. Psychologists have always battled with how sometimes even where there is a crowd of people, no one will help. Are we sacred of ‘getting involved’, not sure what to do, think the person might have mental health issues or drug / alcohol issues or look to someone else to solve the problem etc. Robert Cialdini in his best seller ‘Influence’ says we seek social proofing, if no one else is helping, then I think it’s not OK to help, but if I see just one other person, that might encourage me to help too, to take action. In situations like this, where we don’t know what to do, we take our cues from the people around us and seek strength in numbers. He also suggests in the book that if you are ever in strife in public then specifically target someone (if you can, obviously the old lady may not have been able to) by saying ‘Can you please call for am ambulance?’. Most people when individually and specifically targeted will automatically respond to a plea for help. At least our humanity compels us to act, especially when specifically directed and given a task to do.

      Matt, many thanks for sharing your experience and there are no easy answers. I always feel that hopefully no matter what someone, somewhere will always step up and do the right thing.
      Regards
      Yamini

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