Life on the Line

In a recent Facebook discussion, we talked about the value of occupations where people put their life on the line.  This of course arose out of a conversation about the currently chaotic situation involving the police and the Black Lives Matter movement.  A friend of mind said he leaned towards siding with police because they lay their lives on the line every day.  Many people feel this way and it is oft used to not only build respect towards police officers, but also people in the military.

On one hand there is certainly courage getting up each day, knowing this could be a day you die…or rather a higher than normal percentage for the average citizen.  Of course the average cop may have as good of odds as the average person who grows up in inner city areas that have a high crime and murder rate.  That aside I agree that it still takes courage, but the stress of such a situation is likely not healthy without a good deal of treatment to deal with the stress.  That kind of stress is likely to make you more likely to take less chances in any given interaction with the citizenry to protect your own life.  Particularly in areas where there is a lot of crime, and for a job which doesn’t pay that well given the cost of your life.

On the other hand, one wonders what compels someone to choose that line of work?  Do people say…”I really want to put my life on the line every day and be a cop or join the military, protecting people?”  I am sure some of them do.  Such nobility does exist.  But I am sure there are plenty of reasons that come into play as well.  Some may join because they can’t afford or don’t want to go to college.  For the military, some may join for the opportunity to go to college, or the job opportunities that will be more plentiful upon graduation.  Many join the military simply as a way to get out of poverty.  Other factors may come into play, like trying to escape an abusive or dysfunctional household, doing it because your father and/or brother(s) did it.  Other less noble reasons could also exist like just wanting the respect that comes with the uniform, picturing yourself as some action hero not even thinking about the consequences of you doing or wanting that instant authority over people.  This has always been the trouble I have had with simply thinking of all cops or military personnel as noble heroes for being willing to lay down their life for others, because it’s unclear to me how much of this courage really factors into their decision to do the job.

wash-ham_memeBut they do, do the job.  At the end of the day isn’t that all that matters?  Perhaps, but if laying down your life, whatever your initial intentions were make you a person with courage then such courage should also be bestowed on all people who have dangerous jobs.  And there are such jobs even though they in no way are protecting other people.  People who are loggers, fishers, and roofers come in the top 3.  Here is a list of the top 20 most dangerous professions per capita (Police come in at 15).  We also must then laud all those who lay their life down for a cause.  This then includes your rebels, your gangs, your suicide bombers.  This people also risk their life, sometimes end their lives for a cause they believe in.  I think we can agree that this is not the type of person we want to elevate to nobility.  Of course it is the values they hold, the values they fight for, the goodness that they protect.  So if we can’t guarantee the motivations of all people who don the uniform, if there are more dangerous professions, and if what makes someone is a hero is the values they represent, it seems to me like “laying down one’s life” isn’t an overly relevant reason to elevate one to a position of automatic respect.

But you may say, “Big talk person with blog, but would you be willing to do the same?”.  And I think it’s a fair question to ask and it’s also an important question I think to ask one’s self.  “Is there a cause for which I’m willing to die for?”  I certainly think I have the courage for it, but I know for me the death part isn’t what would hold me back.  If there was truly no other way besides carrying a gun to solve the problem, then it is my passion that would override my fear of death, at least initially.  It would simply feel like the right thing to do regardless of the consequences.  What I will say is that I am definitely capable of making a mistake, and possibly a deadly one.  Dying to me is quite honestly less scary than taking the life of someone who did feel I deserve it.  Had I shot Tamir Rice.  I would be wishing myself dead, and if they didn’t lock me up, I’d quickly turn in my badge.  Because, how are you going to live with that?

Cop buys mother he caught stealing, $200 dollars in groceries for her kids.  Values to die and live for.
Cop buys mother he caught stealing, $200 dollars in groceries for her kids. Values to die and live for.

When it comes the situation between cops and blacks in the U.S., all I can say is that there is definitely racism in the justice system, and most cops are simply doing their best.  They see the worst of society and the see it every day.  There is no question this wears on them, and there is no question in changes the brain.  But so does poverty and racism.  The key is I think is to reach out to all those who need help.  You don’t have to lay down your life to support the police and black people.  Things have to change or a lot more people are going to die and those are the lives we all need to work together to save.

Heroes

Recently Jon Stewart had a man named Andrew Harper on the show who works for the U.N. in a refugee camp in Jordan.  The area of course is flooded with refugees from Syria.  Jon talked about how much of a hero this guy is for doing this every day.  It can’t be easy.

From Heroes Wiki

An interest concept to me is the idea of a hero.  It feels like to me that those we laud as heroes are often not the ones we should.  Maybe this is cultural and is not true everywhere.  Is there such a thing as a true hero or is it always subjective to a particular person or culture?  I am sure most would agree that the latter is more the case. Although I always find it interesting how much people want to get you to appreciate what they consider a hero.  Maybe it’s the same sort of mentality that convinces someone to push a belief system on you.

The subjectivity of a hero made me think about military heroes.  I find this to be the be a bit paradoxical at times.  In the U.S. there is a strong emphasis over all others to consider those in the military as heroes.  It occurs to me that an enemy to a warring nation has their heroes too, so can the person that kills Americans be a hero and also the American who kills the enemy be a hero?  Who has the moral authority?  The one that wins the war? Of course each side would not consider the other to have heroes even though arguable both fighters would be brave, adept, strong, etc.   There is also a strange dichotomy between those in the military and then the larger context of the war itself.  There is no doubt in my mind that the men and women are brave and heroic for being willing to put their life on the line.  But what if the war is unjust?  I am sure Nazi Germany had their heroes; ones that were elevated to hero status for killing the most allied soldiers or even killing the most Jews.  In the context of their fight those people were heroes.  We of course would not view them as such.

In Shakespeare’s Henry V, King Henry pretends to be a soldier and walks among his men to gather their mood.  At one point he questions one of his men, well what if the cause be unjust?  The man simply responds that if the war is unjust it is matter for the conscience of the King who leads them into battle and not the responsibility of the soldier. This idea makes me uncomfortable,  and of course was not supported during the Nuremburg trials, and probably with good reason.  And though it makes me uncomfortable I still find some merit to it. It must still be a difficult choice though, to know you will be jailed, possibly killed for not supporting your country’s cause.  In a democracy perhaps we are all responsible for fighting an unjust war.  So perhaps the soldier is a hero, since in a way many are responsible for giving that soldier the motive even if it is not a just motive.

Of course heroes are someone that we connect with.  Some people connect with military heroes, I perhaps do not connect as much with them as those who take part in humanitarian efforts.  It bothers me that these people are not celebrated in the same way we are asked to celebrate those in the military.  Support of our troops does make a difference to their morale, so shouldn’t we also support the tireless efforts of those who bring humanitarian relief to people who are struggling?  There is a lot of it in this world and these people also work long hours, in less than ideal conditions to provide aid and relief to others.  Do their tales not deserve the spotlight are they not the source of inspiration?

And how often do we praise the everyday heroes?  What about people who volunteer in soup kitchens, good cops, firefighters, or teachers, doctors and nurses who go the extra mile?  What about a single mom who works hard every day to support her children and give them a chance for something more in life?  Should we define heroism only by the level of danger that one faces?  It seems like this is the most commonly used criteria.  The one thing that seems clear is that true heroes do what they do because they are driven to do so, and not to be elevated by society at all.

Many heroes have their flaws too.  I am sure there are bad days when they want to give it all up.  They may be extremely good at what they do for people, but as a result neglect other parts of life and thus not live up to our elevated expectations of morality.  Nobody is perfect, not even heroes.  Perhaps the best we can do is try to be heroes ourselves while at the same time never forget to celebrate all those who demonstrate the best in human virtues.  They are all equally as important.  A person who is willing to die for our freedom should be at least as important as one who is willing to live for our freedom.