Five Reasons That Someone Might Throw Himself on a Grenade in Your Vicinity!

23 Sep

As we send our beloved Kenyan seminarian back to his home country while there is an active, horrifying hostage situation in the capital of Nairobi, and as we contemplate last week’s carnage at the Navy Yard here in Washington, D.C., the question again arises, why do some people sacrifice themselves (or risk sacrificing themselves) to rescue others?

Parade Magazine took that question onboard yesterday, with its article about Captain Richard Phillips facing down a band of Somali pirates.  They came up with four reasons, according to research which has been conducted in this area.  I will start with their four reasons, using them for a riff on the theme . . . 

Why do some people behave sacrificially in a crisis?

1) They come from a culture or mindset where the theme of laying down one’s life for one’s brother is emphasized.  Christianity, along with other religions, teaches this.  So does the military.  So do first responder agencies.  This is not a philosophy that is adopted at the moment that gunfire breaks out.  It has long been a theme at the very center of this person’s life.  

2) This person practices “random acts of kindness” every day.  He does not suddenly go miles out of his way for people he has previously ignored.  Even if he rescues strangers in a crisis, he turns out to have a background of kindness toward strangers.  

3) This person sees the world as individuals, not as a large, impersonal horde of “others.”  Again, Christianity and first-responder training both emphasize doing what you can to help one individual, even if you can’t help everybody . . . 

4) This person has likely had some sort of first-responder training (perhaps in the military) and/or has actively thought through the responses she would make if she heard gunfire erupt in a crowded place.  The military always says they train for the future war they will fight, not the last war they fought in the past.  I believe that people who throw themselves on grenades (or on top of someone when gunfire breaks out) are realists who have usually thought through the steps that occur in modern hostage situations and have decided what they could do at any given stage in the scenario.  Annual training in the military covers this area.  

Jesus said there is no greater love than that a man should lay down his life for his friends.  Then Jesus did it, for us.  So here is my fifth reason, not mentioned in Parade.

5) The person has a philosophy that this world is not all there is, so it is not necessary to cling to our own lives so very tightly that we let a chance to save someone else’s life pass by.  This is a variation on reason #1, but a strictly religious one.  It is easy to see why a person who believes that this world is all the life they ever get would have a hard time throwing himself on that grenade (although atheists often do just that).  

Just some thoughts . . . 

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