My dear friend in England called me this week in a state. Earlier that day, while waiting for a train in an outdoor suburban station, he saw a teenage girl sitting with her feet dangling over the edge of the platform, clearly distressed. When he tried to talk her into moving back from the edge, instead, she jumped onto the tracks. A couple of women, alerted as to what was going on, leapt in and wrestled her back to the platform, while my friend and another man – most fortuitously wearing Hi-Vis pants – waved frantically at the train, which was now visibly arriving in the distance. Fortunately, the conductor became aware of the spectacle and slowed down, while the girl was brought back to safety.
My friend, probably still in shock, was concerned about whether he had done the right thing, or indeed had done enough, not having been the one to leap in to save the girl. Of course, I reassured him that his actions were extremely helpful, especially as they alerted others as to what was going on.
I had my own similar reservations this week, when, in less dramatic circumstances, I discovered a set of keys in the parking lot of a shopping plaza. I was in two minds as to whether to leave them for the owners to retrace their steps and find them, or to give them in at the supermarket, in the hope that they would have gone there or would think to ask inside. Another shopper reinforced this option, so I left the keys at the customer service and returned with a note, which I placed on the windshield of what I hoped was the right car.
I later agonized over whether I had done the right thing, and the truth is that sometimes you can never know, you can only try to do what you feel is right at the time. In some ways, the bigger issue is in harbouring the desire to do the right thing in the first place. We should all not only strive to do what’s right in any given scenario, but to also feel a powerful need to do so.
While we may not have innate superpowers to sweep in and rescue a person or bad situation, when we cultivate a deep sense of responsibility to one another, we can harness the energy to be ready and willing to act when the need arises. Our decisive actions can sometimes have life-changing, if not life-saving outcomes, and this is what makes us truly superhuman.