When I was still in college, my dad came back from a trip to Greece with a frightening story.
He’d been taking the public transit there when the door of the metro style train door shut on his arm. Realizing he couldn’t get it loose, he started tugging and twisting away at it. Apparently the trains over there aren’t like the metro here, which he observed when it wouldn’t budge. He was stuck.
Then the cars began to move.
My poor pops must’ve been shitting his pants. I do, a little, every time I just think of it now.
He made frantic eye contact with two men, sat inside.
They did not budge.
They were still seated like stones when a young woman rushed from a seat farther back, pried the doors open with both arms, and yanked my father into the car – like something outta a Keanu Reeves or Tom Cruise romantic action comedy. After the initial shock wore off and gratitude had been delivered, my dad wondered why the men hadn’t done what she had. She guessed that for them it was just like “watching a movie”. I wonder to this day about that failure to act. Passively going through life while other people suffer. Giving both zero dollars and zero fckks to the man sat on cardboard in the street. Has sensory inundation by society sodomized the empathy outta us? After a slew of unrelated stories about kids saving the day this week, I tend to think: ya. Maybe it’s a kinda learned helplessness. Learned lack of empathy and connection. Maybe we’re better at leading the way when we’re younger – provided we’re given the right foundation. I mean, for instance, there was the ten year old badass who jumped into the window of a moving mothereffing Chestermobile and started beating on the abductor so that his sister – who’d just been kidnapped – could jump out.
Or the seventh graders who pulled over a bus and parked it after the driver had a heart attack.
They also did CPR on the dude:
Or the story from a couple years ago:
A six year old girl saved her friend with the Heimlich maneuver (which I still dunno how to do really). And similarly – when this nine year old chick did the same for her classmate in what I feel like would make excellent fodder for the beginnings of a long term love story – both for a flick and IRL:
So where does this come from?
I mean, the little boy who saved his sister was acting on an instinct of familial love. But what about the others? Well, the girl who saved her choking friend said she saw it in an educational Disney show. The bus driver’s superhero middle schooler said he thought about a superhero book he’d read as soon as SHTF – and that that inspired him. And, finally, the little girl who saved the choking boy? Her dad’s an EMT – a father who knew the importance of teaching your kids life skills.
Maybe that’s what it boils down to.
Those of us who don’t jump into action have probably just had more passive than interactive exposure in life. I can vouch for that – and it makes sense – the more you practice something, the more habitual it becomes. If you’re practicing the Heimlich or chest compressions cuzza Dora Explorer or dad alike, that’s something you’re gonna recall. If you’re just sitting back and watching mindstabatory pop singers in between obsessively stalking their twitter, then you’re not gonna think to think for yourself in a time of crisis. How can you think to lead the way if you follow all the time? Follow a program? Follow the trends online? Follow twitter accounts religiously?
And maybe that’s also what my dad’s own young hero meant by “it’s like watching television for them”.
This isn’t a new problem. But kids are new – to the world – so they’re fresh; they’re still interested in learning. They haven’t acquired quite as many of the social fears that preclude many of the rest of us from making physical contact with a stranger – even when they’re dying. Some “heroes” of the world have had it rough and have learned interactiveness firsthand – by paving their own way. Those of us who’ve lived more protected lives rely on good parenting to install that software. And a good parent will know what kind of guidance, T.V. shows, and literature to put in place to ensure that those fears never hinder a potential rescue when it comes to the crunch. A less good one – likely passive themselves – will just use technology as a babysitter and STFU-er alike, and let the sensory overload that is the interwebz slowly and schizophrenically shape their little brains.
So, here’s to you, active parents of the world.
May your progeny’s awesomeness be contagious enough that there are more peeps like the one who saved my pops.
Or like the group effort to help this dude who found his limb in a similar platform pickle:
*Toasts coffee mug to good parents*
*Chokes and slowly dies while Minnie watches in boredom*