Monday, August 08, 2005

The heroism of ordinary people

Just how remarkable was the way Mumbai's citizens rushed to each other's aid after the cloudburst? For crisis situations, it was perhaps par for the course. Baruch Fischhoff writes in the New York Times, in the context of similar "social coordination" after the Air France crash of last week:
While this sort of behavior is often described as remarkable, it is actually what researchers have come to expect. Studies of civilians' intense experiences in the London Blitz; the cities of Japan and Germany in World War II; the 1947 smallpox outbreak in New York; the earthquake in Kobe, Japan, in 1995; and even fires have found that people, however stressed, almost always keep their wits and elevate their humanity.

Indeed, the critical first responders in almost any crisis are ordinary citizens whom fate has brought together. As Kathleen Tierney, head of the University of Colorado's Natural Hazards Center, has noted, "The vast majority of live rescues are carried out by community residents who are at the scene of disasters, not by official response agencies or outside search and rescue teams."
In other words, helping others in a crisis is hardwired in us. Comforting.

(Link via email from Ravikiran, via Instapundit.)