Article originally posted in and nationally syndicated by the American City Business Journals on October 10, 2017.
We frequently read about ordinary people doing extraordinary things to help others by exhibiting courage and, in some cases, exposing themselves to danger and possible death. In many of these cases, altruism drives their actions. Merriam-Webster defines altruism as an “unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others” and is in the top one percent of words searched.
A horrific tragedy was perpetrated by Stephen Paddock on Oct. 1 in Las Vegas when he murdered 58 people and injured more than 500 attending the outdoor Route 91 Harvest music festival. Paddock sprayed the crowd with automatic-weapons fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. Authorities have yet to establish a motive for the crime.
The number of individuals who lost their lives or were injured could have been even higher if not for ordinary people attending the concert who, along with first-responders, exhibited courage by performing acts of heroism. They exercised initiative at great personal risk, shielded loved ones and strangers, and herded people out of the line of fire.
On Oct. 2, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders became emotional when in a press conference she honored those who protected others.
Sanders commented, “One man, 29-year-old Sonny Melton, had traveled from Tennessee to Las Vegas for the concert with his wife, Heather. When the bullets began raining down from above, Sonny shielded her from danger, selflessly giving up his life to save hers. …
“Others risked their own lives to save people that they have never met. Mike McGarry of Philadelphia laid on top of students at the concert to protect them from the gunfire. ‘They’re 20, I’m 53’ he said, ‘and I’ve lived a good life.’…
“Gail Davis, who was attending the concert with her husband, said she owes her life to a brave police officer who instinctively served as a human shield, protecting her from harm.”
In the June 6, 2014 NPR opinion piece headlined “Heroes among us: When ordinary people become extraordinary,” Laurel Dalrymple wrote, “I believe that many people have a little bit of hero inside them, and sometimes all it takes is one person [who assumes the mantle of leadership] to get the ball rolling.”
Dalrymple’s comment is typified by the events on United Airlines flight 93 on 9/11, when a handful of leaders among the passengers forced the flight to crash in a field in Pennsylvania before the hijackers could potentially cause a catastrophe in Washington, D.C. They knew they were about to make the ultimate sacrifice.
In February 1943, during World War II, on the torpedoed SS Dorchester, four army chaplains — a priest, a rabbi, a Methodist minister and a Dutch Reformed minister — gave up their own life jackets to others. It was reported that the four courageous chaplains were seen standing on deck with locked arms, singing hymns and praying as the ship went down. There is no higher act of altruism or valor than giving up your life to save another.
Leaders have a bias for action. Notwithstanding possible personal risk, they inspire others to do the same. This is the case whether the venue is an outdoor music venue, the cabin of an aircraft, a sinking ship or, to bring it into a workplace environment, an employee within an organization who decides to report illegal activity to a company’s hotline — such as in the recent Wells Fargo bogus account scandal. A number of these employees were fired for doing so.
Hurricane Harvey tragically disrupted the lives of the residents of Houston and those who live along the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana. Many of the victims had to be evacuated from their homes because of the record rise in flood waters. A significant number were rescued by citizen volunteers using their personal water craft, demonstrating that Americans help each other in times of need.
Two of these citizen volunteers were Bill Brock and Doug Lile, employees of Femco Holdings’ East Texas facility in Gladewater, 200 miles north of Houston. I am on the board of this company, which provides repair and machine shop services to a variety of industries, including oil and gas production as well as mining. I know both Brock and Lile and spoke to them about their decision to help.
Brock owns a pickup truck and Lile a 20-foot fishing boat. Hearing the news about people stuck in their homes endangered by rising flood waters and the response by ordinary Americans to help rescue them, they decided to drive to Houston and do the same.
When they arrived, they were stunned by the number of citizen first-responders who arrived with fishing boats, duck-hunting boats and ski boats to help the police and the military rescue people in harm’s way.
Brock said, “Mail boxes were underwater, and at many houses, water rose to beyond first floors. We ran into boats that were overloaded with people and their pets. We approached people in their homes who did not want to leave. We took people back to their homes to pick up keepsakes and pets.”
Lile added, “At night, we slept in our truck and went back out the next morning. There is nothing like knowing you made a difference in other people’s lives.”
Brock’s and Lile’s compensation and all their expenses were covered by Femco. As a Femco board member, I am proud of these two employees and my company.
Someday, each of us may have the opportunity to demonstrate courage and leadership – to step up to help others – to do the right thing. Hopefully, we will do so.Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is a speaker, advisor and nationally syndicated writer on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. Silverman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and an MBA degree from Drexel University. He is also an alumnus of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.