Yesterday we were on our way back from a shopping trip. We were stuck in traffic. We did not pay much attention and thought it was just the usual weekend traffic. However, we soon noticed that the reason was an accident – a guy on a motorcycle was lying on the pavement, his motorcycle on the road. What shocked me even more than the accident itself was that nobody seemed to care. Cars just changed lanes, pedestrians looked the other way.
We asked the driver if we should call an ambulance. He kept driving and answered: “Oh, don’t worry, I’m sure he called one himself.” I did not know what to say. Seriously?! Somebody who is passed out would be able to call an ambulance themselves?
We immediately picked up the phone and called the emergency hotline. Our driver then helped us to instruct the ambulance about the location of the accident. When we finished, he said: “Great job, more people should be like you guys, then our city would be so much better.”
Growing up in Austria, we were taught from an early age to show moral courage. This involves offering your seat to the elderly, assisting a mother with her stroller as well as helping in an emergency. When I went abroad, I realized that in a lot of countries, the concept of moral courage does not exist. Before my very first trip to China, I read that in case of an accident, nobody will help. According to the Chinese cultural system, I am a stranger, I am not part of their family, clan or close circle of friends. Hence, people will not be willing to interfere.
I realized that this phenomenon was not unique to China. It is actually prevalent in many countries to which I have travelled. It has a lot to do with the above-mentioned unwillingness to interfere in a stranger’s life. More recently, I realized that also in Europe, moral courage has changed. Everybody is caught up in their own lives. I do not think that people do not offer a seat to the elderly because they are bad people. I think it is just that we have become more and more self-centered. It is easy to not even notice the old lady in front of you, if you are constantly glued to your phone. And I do think that this whole “it’s all about me”-attitude influenced us to live in bubbles and only care about ourselves. Furthermore, interfering in somebody else’s life may cause problems for yourself. Why would you bother?
After we reached our destination and left the car, we got a call from the ambulance. They were looking for the motorcycle guy. Obviously he had managed to make his way on his own. Was our call uneccessary? I do not think so. It is better to get involved, help and find out that everything is OK rather then just moving on and, in the worst case, let another person die on the streets.
And hopefully, we set a good example and influenced one person yesterday: our driver. Maybe next time, he thinks about us and what he said about making the city better. Maybe he then picks up the phone and helps as well. Calling an ambulance and helping others does not make us any heroes, even though the term contains the word “courage”. And moral courage is not difficult either – it can be a phone call, asking if the person is OK or standing up on the train and offering your seat.