Would You “Have-A-Go”?   Leave a comment


During the past month, there have been several cases of so-called “have-a-go heroes” popping up to defend their communities in the face of crime; but what motivates these people to willing put themselves in danger?

Ann Timson in full flow

I was as much in awe as anyone when I heard that 71-year-old Ann Timson singled-handedly saw off a gang of six robbers from a Northampton jewellery store aided only by her handbag; but I also wondered whether I could have done the same in her place.  As a 25-year-old self-confessed weakling, I don’t think I would have been much use if I had got involved – unless it had been one of those days when I carry a brick in my bag.  Seriously though, as someone who likes to keep abreast of current affairs, I am only too aware of the latest statistics on violent crime and so I would probably be so worried about my own personal safety that I wouldn’t be able to help directly.  I’m not saying that I would callously walk past ignoring the situation, but I would stay merely at “concerned bystander” level: telephoning the police and waiting to see if I could provide any other assistance such as providing an eye-witness account.

On Friday, another “have-a-go hero” emerged in Peterborough as a different jewellery robbery took place.  The robbers – two men armed with a handgun – failed in their attempt as a mystery man tried to disarm one of the thieves as they were trying to flee the scene.  A small handgun was found at the scene by police officers, but for a while the passer-by who had stepped in to help was unknown.  Following a public appeal, the mysterious stranger has been identified and the police have been able to speak to him for their investigation.  At the timing of writing this hero has yet to be unmasked and, considering his initial reluctance to hang around following the incident, maybe he will maintain his anonymity because he doesn’t want the attention and never did what he did for the glory.

Someone 'having a go' at being a hero

However, is it really as simple as me saying “I could never do that”?  Northampton’s Mrs Timson made a snap judgement when she thought someone was being hurt, rather than a jewellery store being raided.  She told The Sun, “My mother’s instinct kicked in and I ran across the road shouting at the lads to stop it.  I was not going to stand by and watch someone take a beating so I intervened.” This makes her act seem less incredible because there is a strong sense of human instinct and moral obligation portrayed in her explanation.  As a Victim Support spokesperson told BBC News, “It’s not possible to tell people how to react in situations where others may be at risk, because they will inevitably follow their instincts.”

Popeye always comes to the rescue

But where does this instinct come from?  Maybe it’s a primal link we have with others from our own species: a need to protect the weak amongst us to secure the continuation of the human race.  Or possibly some of us have a innate desire to prevent wrongdoing and help those who are in trouble due to the presence of some kind of ‘conscience’.  The biological and psychological ideas which are involved in exploring what exactly an instinct is and how they evolved are not my particular strong points, but it is definitely an interesting area.  However, one key thing to take away from the ‘instinct’ argument is that it removes the “hero’s” thought process and actually makes them seem more human because it shows they are actually subject to some inner strength of character which appears to take over control of their body for a short time.  Is this not a similar process to that of experiencing genuine fear when adrenaline rushes through the body and you either become rooted to the spot or can suddenly run extremely fast over great distances?  In the case of a robbery, bystanders will have the same adrenaline rush and – depending on how their body chooses to react – they will either be frozen stiff or will leap into action as their physical body goes on ‘auto-pilot’.

Is this instinct (or whatever it is) to intervene in situations we see as morally wrong brave or just stupid?  Whilst it may well be dangerous, it will inevitably be something we are remembered for.  So, as a final thought to leave you with: are “have-a-go heroes” trying to be good, to save others or to be heralded as heroes?

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Posted 22/02/2011 by thinkmindy in conscience, ethics, Morality

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