The Hero Mentality

I have never been faced with the challenge of being a true hero before but I have speculated on how I might react to different situations based on the person being saved a complete stranger.

One thing I find funny is that no matter what the scenario the first thing that comes to my mind is "how would my dad expect me to deal with this". This seems to be the compass that guides me. That doesn't mean I would always go along with how I thought he would expect me to act but it does determine how I would feel about myself if I didn't act. 

  I think my first condsideration is always whether or not I can change the outcome and if so what are my odds of doing this at what risk. Just thinking about a situation where I figure I have a 30% chance of saving someone and an equal chance of saving myself. With these odds I feel like I don't have a choice and If I chickened out I would live with horrible guilt. I have no idea how I would actually act if this came up. I hope it doesn't. Any thoughts on this?

I have been in a couple of situations where my response could reasonably be called “heroic”. I don’t usually think of them that way, but I did put my own life at risk to save or protect others–one white water rescue and one mugging gone bad that I stumbled into. There have also been occasions when only my own life was at risk, and assorted lesser crises. I have thought about my reaction to those situations quite a bit. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can try to describe what it was like for me.

There seems to be a critical “oh shit” threshold in my mind. When I hit it, my brain shifts into a completely different mode. Emotions get shut down, or at least stuck in a closet for the duration–I’m no longer aware of any fear or anger. My thinking changes; there’s a crystalline clarity to it, but it’s monofocused. Everything is directed to my goal–get the kids out of the water, get the knife away from the assailant–and usually takes the form of a series of images, pictures of my next several actions, rather than “verbal” thought. I still have some sense of personal risk, but it’s cold. It’s just a factor in deciding which route to take to the goal.

After the crisis is over, it catches up to me. I don’t actually fall over, but I get the shakes, and sitting down for a long time seems like a really good idea.

That’s just me. I don’t think you can know for sure how you’ll react until after you’ve done it. At best, you can make guesses based on your reactions to lesser crises…but that’s not necessarily a good guide. I tend to be very cautious and methodical until I hit that threshold, for example.

Some things I have considered and been tested at. I have gotten involved in several fights where someone was outnumbered but was only risking what I considered an ass kicking. I have no big fear of that so it doesn’t really count. I do have a fear of heights and to some extent water. Both of them I would feel extremely challenged, I know I can climb but have a dreadful fear once I reach a certain height, same with swimming, I can swim but not good at 30 yards from shore I would start to feel challenged.

Good place to insert this tale:

True story, by the way, although Heinlein fictionalized some of the details.

Some of it is conditioning. Be in a position in which you are expected to run towards danger instead of away from it and it almost becomes normal.

Only once in my life have I done something I consider heroic; that is choosing to risk my life to try to save a stranger, and having only seconds to make the decision, and less than a minute to change my mind, once I started the action (it was an attempted water rescue).

All I can say is that there really was no judgement, no weighing of risks vs. benefits, beyond realizing noone else was in a position to do it, and there was a real chance of success. I just acted. As I was initiating action, I knew that I very well might not survive the attempt, but that seemed irrelevant to the situation.

I nearly died, and was unable to rescue the other person, who did not survive.

Afterwards, as I tried to sort it all out, one recurring thought was that my dad would have been proud.

My conclusion? That was just how I am wired, in that particular circumstance. It is comforting to know that.

You have the right instincts & I’ll never try to get you to second guess them. If you can help without harming or making it worse, you just do.
Whats that old knights code? Do whats right, do no harm, and keep faith that each time you do so you… in some small way… you make the world a better place?

PS- Don’t sweat the fear of heights; its said that Sheryl Crow is afraid of heights. Sheryl Crow, the woman who had the guts to call out Karl Rove out on his nonsense … To His Face, in public, and while Dubya was still in office. You’re in pretty good company…

Really? Has anyone in the history of the railroad actually had their foot caught in the tracks such that can’t free it and got killed by a train?

It’s like the story of the guy who gets cut in half by the subway, but is still alive so long as he stays wedged between the platform and the train.

I grew up in a town that has a rail line going through it. The HS was on one side of town & kids would walk along the train tracks to the other after school (evidently it was a lot faster, etc, etc.).
The town strongly discouraged this, but it still happened. It also happened that every 3-5 years or so a kid would get hit by a train.

Now, if the train conductor could stop and ask, "Hey kid, is your foot stuck? Are you high as a kite? Are you committing suicide or are you just Stupid? " then they would stop the train & nobody would ever get hit.
Some kids probably committed suicide & some parents probably clung to the story that their kids foot just got stuck. Did it ever happen? Its awfully hard to say because if a human being gets hit by 400 tons of
steel even at 40mph, they’ll pop like a water balloon*.

*Mass x Speed = Force. See? I Do use HS physics…

True or not it is a great story.

Yes. The story was assumed to be true, then slowly got pushed into the “Heinlein telling a great story” category when no corroborative news story could be located.

Then a diligent searcher found what is undoubtedly the genesis story, and other than Heinlein personalizing it a little and polishing some details, it’s all true.