The scenario* runs thusly:
You have been friends with a guy named Bob for a long time, he’s quiet and unassuming but likable enough. One day Bob is at the local store when its held up by a gunman, the gunman threatens the staff and customers present and just as he’s appparently about to kill the shop-assistant Bob intervenes, he disarms and subdues the gunman but in the struggle is shot himself. He very nearly dies but is saved by the quick work of the other customers, emergency personellel and doctors.
He spends several months recovering in hospital and when he comes out he’s surprised to find he’s something of a local hero, people are congratulating him for his courage and for saving the other people in the store, there is a civic event and he is lauded for his actions. Bob accepts this but doesn’t really seem to be that interested in it, people just put it down to good old Bob being his usual modest self.
Flash-forward a few months and Bob is over at your house, you joke about him being a hero and he gets upset saying he really wishes people would stop calling him that. It turns out that Bob has been feeling depressed for a long time and has had suicidal thoughts but never acted on them because he doesn’t want to hurt his family and friends, when the opportunity presented itself in the store he tackled the gunman not through any heroic motive on his part but rather that he didn’t think he’d survive the encounter, it was for him an acceptable means of suicide, people would never know his true motives.
So there you go, Bob isn’t the hero people think he is but is actually a fraud (this is his opinion of himself)
How would you react to this revelation? Would you keep it quiet or let people know? Is Bob still a hero or a fraud, is he something else?
- the scenario is just really a means of framing the question, use whatever relevant scenario you like
Bob’s motivations don’t change the intrinsic worth of his action in the store.
Is this the story of your username?
I would try to be a helpful friend to Bob, encourage him to get the help that he needs, and try to help him see that what happened is larger than himself, and that his intentions are just a small part of a story that made a lot of people’s lives better.
His motivation is irrelevant, particularly to the shop assistant he saved, and I’d tell Bob that. I would not discuss the situation with anyone else.
Bob is extra cool in my book. But he does need to get some treatment.
Sounds like a comic book hero origin story.
Actually, that would probably be the best way to commit suicide, kind of the opposite of what we usually call ‘suicide by cop’. There are times I would have wanted the opportunity.
So, assuming I’m not Bob and want to help him, I’d go with trying to treat his depression. That his actions helped others is irrelevant from his viewpoint.
He made a split-second decision, and he disarmed a man at great risk to himself. That makes his a hero. It’s no different from someone with end-stage terminal cancer volunteering to do something very dangerous, such as diving into a river to try and save a child. The fact that he’s going to die soon doesn’t discount the fact that it’s a selfless act.
Nah, that’s the result of an entirely different dark and tragic secret.
Thanks for the answers everyone!
I say it’s all relative. He’s a hero to the customers he saved, but it’s somewhat arguable if he’s a hero to his family. Judging just from the facts of the hypo, and assuming that Bob is a decent father and husband and not a depressed and abusive alcoholic, you can argue that he put his family at risk when he risked his life. If you’re going to play the “motivations don’t matter” game, it goes both ways. He saved some customers, but at the same time risked his own life and the possible devastation of his family.
I would say the same thing if he wasn’t suicidal. If you got people you care about depending on you, you should think twice about being a hero.
As for telling anyone, I wouldn’t. depression is a private matter that the public shouldn’t really know about.
Edit: The OP said “family” and I assumed wife and kids. If Bob is a loner then none of the above really applies. His actions would be 100% heroic.
Well I was thinking more of ‘parents/siblings/cousins’ when I said family, and yes I agree, if he is married with children then it does make a difference to the scenario.
I’d keep his secret, certainly. However, I would offer to him to tell his secret to his best friends, so that they would understand the full context.
It wouldn’t (I believe) diminish anyone’s admiration for what he actually did, and it would help them better understand that he has emotional needs which their open adulation of his heroism are being hurt, not helped, by.
(The same would be true of someone who simply has a very, very strong personal sense of humility. Someone like that does not feel good when referred to as a hero, and might very well wish people wouldn’t. A good friend would know how to put the word about, so that his friends would better be able to treat him the way he would wish to be treated.)
I’d also be supportive in my urging him to see a mental health care professional. Friends don’t let friends be miserable…
I’d tell him not to engage in any other faux-heroic actions in which his death is guaranteed, because there’s nobody more cowardly than a suicide Bobber.
I’m not religious at all, but I’d react with humour, along the lines that obviously the gods aren’t gonna let him get away THAT easily, so he’d better start looking around for what he’s supposed to be doing here.
Whats a suicide Bobber? I did a google search but I’m a bit leery of opening some of the links.
A suicide bobber is when the guy who is strapping the vest filled with explosives to his body has a really, really bad cold.
This probably isn’t relevant, but I wonder how much difference there is between suicide by proxy and just not giving a shit. So say Bob doesn’t give a shit about the clerk or himself, but he’s really territorial and takes it personally that someone is robbing **HIS **corner store. He gets so pissed off he just goes apeshit on the poor asshole and when the dust settles, oh wow, he’s a hero. And got shot, whatever.
I would talk about it with Bob, if he wanted to. I would say he is still a hero for saving someone’slife, regardless of his own motivations. And I wouldn’t say he was a fraud - it’s not like he is claiming anything under false pretences, you can’t control what other people think about you. If he were getting all sorts of benefits as a result of his status and he did nothing to dispel this, then maybe, but we all make assumptions about other people that may not be justified if we knew the full story, and there may be a good reason we don’t know the full story.
I would only tell others about my conversation with Bob if both of the following were true: he asked me to do so, unequivocally; and I felt it was in his best interests.
This is one of the oldest philosophical debates in the books - is it the intent or the result of an act that makes the act good or bad? Discuss…
In Bob’s case - yes he is a hero, or rather he committed a heroic act. (He can be a fraud (or insert other word for what he is) and commit a heroic act - these are fundamentally separate.)
I would, however, counsel Bob to seek help for his negative feelings, and follow-up later to see that he did, and nag him if he didn’t. I wouldn’t share what he told me with anyone else unless he gave me permission - if he did give me permission I would encourage him to be the one that told whomever, so that there was no misunderstanding.
I think it is not only possible but necessary to separate the act from the motivation. Sometimes good motivations lead to bad results and vice versa.
In this case, evaluating just the act, a man put his own life at risk for the safety of others. That is, pretty much by definition, a heroic act. That all said, I don’t think the simple results of an action are worth praise. When we find out someone is doing it for self-aggrandization or other selfish reasons, we feel betrayed, and if they’re truly heroic, don’t we expect them to be humble about it?
Also in this case, he saw an opportunity to kill himself without actually taking the blame for that choice. That’s cowardly in my book, and certainly not worthy of praise. But at the same time, sometimes people do things with less than pure motivation, but afterward realize the good affect it had and are then glad they did it because of the positive results and would, faced with doing it again, would probably do it for that reason instead. Sure, it’s after the fact, but it’s part of the equation.
So really, I think what we’re looking at is sort of a balance between doing the right thing for the wrong reason or the wrong thing for the right reason. In either case, the guy needs help, and doing what you can to get it to him is the right thing for the right reason.