Hero or Goat?

Richard Jewell: Hero or Goat?

I believe that there is something in human nature that makes us want to see that justice is done and that those who violate the rules are punished. Evolutionary psychologists place the source of this human drive in the “cheater detection” module of the brain. They argue that the human brain has evolved to detect cheaters for the purpose of punishing them.

I think we can understand how it’s human nature to jump into the river when we see someone drowning, or to run into the burning building when we hear a child screaming. The problem is that the tendency to help can backfire on you, big time. Of course, this is in part in reference to yesterday’s post about the Wal-Mart employee who stopped a thief, only to be fired.

You must understand that rather than encounter gratitude, your attempts to help can bite you in the butt. For instance, some states eventually passed “Good Samaritan” laws, to hold faultless anyone who tried to help.

Suppose you came across someone in a car accident who was bleeding to death, so you apply a tourniquet. If that person lives, he may sue you if he has a heart attack, or loses his arm, or even has a bruise from where you applied the tourniquet. This even applied to my dad, who was a CHP. In California, state troopers administering life-saving first aid were sued so frequently by greedy ingrates that the whole agency had to undergo EMT training to help put an end to these suits.

Often companies have a timid bottom line. I have heard that store detectives are told not to try to restrain a shoplifter who resists. If he gets injured –say he cuts himself while drawing his knife– the store is looking at a massive lawsuit. The cowardly executives would rather let the punk run with $200 worth of merchandise than pay $20,000 defending a suit successfully or losing $200,000.

One convenience store employee was herded with other employees into a back room. Sensing that the robber was not merely intending to rob the store, but was planning to execute them, the employee drew his concealed pistol and killed the robber. His reward? He was fired! He had violated the company policy of being unarmed.

The cruelest example of ingratitude ever was that of Richard Jewell, who spotted a bomb at the Atlanta Olympics and sounded the alarm, potentially saving dozens or hundreds of lives. His reward? Richard was treated as a suspect. The FBI tore his home apart and placed him under constant surveillance. Richard was ridiculed nationally as a Walter Mitty type fat loser, a guy so desperate for recognition that he had planted the bomb himself. For years Richard lived under a cloud of suspicion and was the butt of jokes, until he was finally exonerated a short time before his death.

My point isn’t that you should never help, but that you should be clear-eyed. Although things may turn out pleasantly if you intervene, be prepared to pay the price for doing what is right.

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One Response to “Hero or Goat?”

  1. I have been a paramedic for 15 years, and I know all too well to what you’re describing regarding the consequences of helping someone in need. We even have a saying for that: “No good deed goes unpunished”!

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