Straight Talk: Unexpected Heroes
Written By Stella Nicholls
To be honest, I struggled with Grow’s theme this month – Selflessness. I think we all have the capacity to react in either a selfless or selfish way – depending on the circumstance. Generally, I feel that I probably hover somewhere in the middle, unaware of the needs of others unless it is specifically brought to my attention but never deliberately going out of my way to hurt anyone or anything. Content in my ‘middle of the road’ existence, sipping a coffee, in my warm cosy office, all my ‘creature comforts’ close by, I wondered what I could write. The definition:
Selflessness – Caring more for what other people need and want rather than for what you yourself need or want.
This brings to mind people who are constantly aware of helping others, out in the freezing, giving blankets and provisions to the homeless, or fighting fires and rescuing people. Anyway, pushing through my writer’s block, (as you do) here is my take on the subject:
‘No One Has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends’
There are moments in history where we glimpse humanity at its most extreme. Humanity that pushes beyond a moment of compassion to a valiant act of heroism. Where a person rises above and beyond the norm and regardless of imminent danger, attempts to save the life of another and sadly, sometimes even dies trying.
Instances like this are often brought on by disaster, a building collapse, a sinking ship, a burning building to name but a few. These are times when people seem to draw on an inner strength which results in a selfless act of courage to help another. And often it is someone that they don’t even know. I am in awe of a person who draws on such courage and I have the greatest admiration for them – this is what selflessness ‘looks like’ to me.
As a child, I remember feeling disturbed and my imagination running wild on being told the true story of German born, Wolraad Woltemade. I think it sticks in my mind because it involved his horse and being an animal lover, it made me feel even more distraught. One stormy night in 1773, a ship, the Jonge Thomas, that was anchored off Table Bay near the Cape coast, broke loose from its anchor and was torn in two after being dashed against the rocks. All 270 people on board, which included women and children, were hurled into the sea. Soldiers on shore, aware of the impending doom (as the captain of the ship had raised the alarm by firing a canon), warned people who wanted to help, not to attempt a rescue in the turbulent waters, as it was too dangerous.
Everyone listened, except Wolraad Woltemade, who rode into the waves on his horse, rescuing two people at a time, an act which he repeated seven times, until on the eighth attempt, he was overwhelmed by the waves and he drowned. Of the 53 people who survived that night, 14 were rescued by Wolraad and his horse. Always one for a happily-ever-after ending to my stories, I wished that the story had been different and that Wolraad and his horse had survived.
There are many stories of heroism through the ages, from all walks of life, involving people in all sectors of employment but especially in the armed forces, the police force or fire service. Roles where just by signing up, a person may well be facing danger on a regular basis and I take my hat off to these individuals for their selflessness.
I got to thinking then that what if we, as average individuals, could attempt to be more selfless in our everyday lives and how that would look? If, on a normal ‘run of the mill’ day, where there is no perceived threat to life, where we may just be sitting behind a screen, (like me) or walking down the High Street, we could be an ‘unexpected hero’ in somebody’s day.
Imagine if just one person stood up for someone being bullied and went and shared their lunch with them and spent time with them during break. What if, one person decided to ‘pay it forward’ and paid for another person’s parking or coffee? Or if just one person, instead of joining in with a bit of a ‘gossip sesh’, stuck up for the person instead?
What if, on seeing someone struggling, we tried to help them, instead of walking past? I guess there is a certain vulnerability to offering a stranger a hand, as you never know how they will react. Be kind anyway. It does take a bit of courage but what have we got to lose? Imagine if one person carrying out a random act of kindness multiplied into two, then four and so on, how many ‘Unexpected Heroes’ we would have walking amongst us?
I know that if I got to the till and someone in front had paid for my Latte, I would be ecstatic and would love to pay that forward. If everyone did that, imagine how it could change society as we know it? One of the questions that I ask when interviewing someone, is what they would change in the world if they could only choose one thing. It is amazing that the answer that comes back time and time again is that they wished people would ‘be kinder’ to each other.
A few years ago, I remember running out into a very busy road after witnessing a small dog being hit by a car. I could see that the pup was still alive but that if it made one false move that that would change very quickly. Without even thinking, I ran out into the road and succeeded in stopping the traffic and then bent down to scoop up the little dog into my arms. I didn’t pause to think, just acted, and I’m sure many would have done the same but there weren’t ‘many’ around watching the road at that moment. It was just me, so it had to be me that acted.
And there’s the thing. Sometimes it is only me or you that notices something is amiss. At that moment, we have a choice to act, or not.
Thankfully, we don’t all have to ride out into stormy seas, risking life and limb to make a difference to someone; to walk alongside someone who may be lonely or sad. Even if a person seems like the most successful human in the world, everyone needs to feel loved and wanted and part of something.
Let’s connect the dots and create a beautiful picture where we help each other one kind deed at a time. I think I’m going to make everyone in the office a cup of tea.