A reader writes:
Your subway "hero" thread is very interesting to me. Ten years ago or so I got a phone call from a very smart honorable friend. He was currently in graduate studies in political theory at Harvard with plans to enter government and politics. He told me that he was walking down the street and saw two or three men bullying/harassing a smaller man. He crossed the street to avoid the incident, worried that maybe one of the harassers had a weapon.
The reason for his call was shame. He thought how could he possibly have a role in government if he couldn’t put himself at risk to help an endangered citizen. He dropped out of Harvard that week and joined the Marines. He is now a firefighter.
That call and decision were powerful to me and the timing was fateful. That same week I was working as a waiter in NYC. I was on my way home at 2:30 am waiting on the subway. A man about 100 feet away passed out and fell onto the tracks.
There were maybe seven people on the platform. I started running down the platform passing people just standing worried and confused. I jumped down onto the tracks and found I couldn’t lift the unconscious man alone. The people on the platform saw this but nobody moved. Finally, I pointed to one man and said, "Get down here and help me lift him," and then to another man, "stand closer and help us get him on the platform." They both immediately reacted and did what I asked. We lifted the unconscious man onto the platform. I then ran upstairs to the booth to get the MTA attendant to call for police and ambulance (which today, there probably wouldn’t be an actual person there) .When I came back down, the train had arrived and had a group gathered around the man. I didn’t know what to do at that point and didn’t want to make a fuss, so I just got on the train.
If I just hadn’t had a philosophical discussion on responsibility and citizenship (not heroism), would I have done anything? Would I have also told another citizen to jump down and endanger himself to help the unconscious man? I don’t know. Was I disappointed there was nothing in the newspaper the next day about a mysterious hero who saved a man and disappeared without taking credit, yes.