Hero or Bystander?

Are you a hero or a bystander? Do you have what it takes to be decisive and act in an emergency? According to psychologists, there are seven questions to ask yourself to judge whether you're the type of person who steps in when the chips are down. Alan gives examples of real-life emergencies and the tools to judge whether you're hero material.

Hero or Bystander?

How would you react in an emergency? Would you risk your life to help somebody in danger?

An article in the Wall Street Journal gave several examples.

A gardener in New York State looked up and noticed a confused 81-year-old driver stuck on a railroad crossing near her house.  She ran barefoot to the car, pulled the woman out, rolled together down the railroad bank, covering the old woman with her body, just moments before a train smashed the automobile. The hero was slightly injured; the old woman was unhurt.

Until we encounter that crisis, we won’t know if we will step up to the challenge or freeze up and do nothing. Recently, scientists have identified the qualities and attitudes that separate heroes from the rest of us.

There was the case of the Brooklyn, NY, man who caught a 7-year-old child falling from her apartment window. The force of the child’s weight did severe damage to his arm muscles and nerves, requiring months of physical therapy. But in the moment of crisis, his only prayer was to not miss the falling child, who was saved without a scratch.

Could we have done that, we wonder?

The article told of a military officer who refused to leave the side of a soldier who had a grenade embedded in his leg. He stayed with the injured man until the evacuation team could get the soldier to a bomb squad, who safely extracted and carried away the explosive.  The officer didn’t have to accompany the injured man, but he had promised he would stay with him until the explosive was removed.

Are we as brave as these heroes?  According to psychologists there are seven questions to gauge yourself, by answering on a scale from Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree.  The higher your score, the more likely it is that you are brave, empathetic, hopeful, and coping—all the traits that are required to be heroic in an emergency.

  1. I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me.
  2. Fear does not keep me from pursuing my goals.
  3. I try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective.
  4. Despite numerous setbacks, I usually succeed at getting what I want.
  5. Fear does not stop me from doing the right thing.
  6. I want to be competent, and I believe I can be.
  7. Being truthful is extremely important to me.

So, what do you do if you get a low score? Don’t beat yourself up.  Most of us aren’t heroes.  We’ll just have to be content being good at something else.

Alan Headbloom

Alan advises Americans how to be global citizens and expats how to fit in to Michigan culture without annoying their native coworkers and clients. He also tweets and blogs at the intersection of language and culture. Over decades, he's traveled, studied, or lived on six continents, putting strange foods into his mouth and emitting strange sounds from it. His use of English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Swedish, Hausa, and Japanese all improve with alcohol use. He gives invited public presentations on culture and unsolicited private advice on English grammar and usage; the latter isn't always appreciated. Visit his website for information on consulting, coaching, or speaking engagements.