Chaplain's Corner + Courageous Engagement
The issue of bystander intervention in crisis situations became a major media and social frenzy as well as a topic of extensive behavioral science investigation after the early morning stabbing murder of a 28 year old woman, Catherine Susan ("Kitty") Genovese, in Queens, NY, on March 13th, 1964. Typical of Initial media reports of the incident was a New York Times front page headline on March 27:: "37 WHO SAW MURDER DIDN'T CALL THE POLICE- Apathy at Stabbing of Queens Woman Shocks Inspector." Subsequent investigations did reveal that a couple of individuals did respond, albeit ineffectually.1 However, this incident and reports about it did highlight the general apathy among individuals when confronted with critical incident events. This is what makes those who do act courageously in moments of danger more heroically notable.
Recently, news media worldwide told of the Moroccan alleged terrorist with an AK-47 and 300 rounds of ammunition traveling from Amsterdam to Paris on a high speed train. After hearing the first shot he fired, USAF Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone (receiving a severe hand wound in the engagement), Alek Skarlatos, Oregon National Guard specialist, accompanied by their friend Anthony Sadler, and joined by British citizen Chris Norman, tackled and subdued the gunman. It was reported that a couple of others also were involved in overcoming the gunman. As the encounter happened on French soil, they were awarded the French Legion of Honor. In giving the award, President François Hollande said, "Your heroism must be an example for many and a source of inspiration. . . .Faced with the evil of terrorism, there is a good, that of humanity. You are the incarnation of that."2
Good religion should inspire us to act heroically to the best of our ability. In Hindu Vedic literature, the Sanskrit term vīrya literally means "state of a strong man" or "manliness" and is often associated with heroism and virility.3 In Buddhism the term vīrya is broadened to include the components of heroism: "energy", "diligence", "enthusiasm", or "effort". It impels wholesome or virtuous actions.4 A United Synagogue Leader's Guide discusses the Jewish concept of a hero by asking: "Who is a hero?" Answering: "One who overcomes his urges."5 In the Christian tradition, heroism is related to deep love. St. John in his Gospel tells us: "Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (15:13)
An heroic act, especially one which puts us in danger of losing our life, actually brings us closer to Godliness. In this matter we can consider the answer of Jesus to the question about the greatest commandment. "Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law? Jesus said to him: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart . . . And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." (Mt 22: 37, 39) To help us apply this to our lives we can consider the wisdom of St. Paisios of the Holy Mountain who tells us: "When someone goes beyond himself, he goes beyond the earth...As long as he remains self, he cannot become a heavenly person. There is no spiritual life without sacrifice."6
6 Elder Paisios of Mount Athos, (2008). Spiritual Counsels II, Thessaloniki, Greece: Holy Monastery "Evangelist John the Theologian"