Good Men Do Nothing

Five people died when their fishing boat capsized last year near Vancouver. The divers from the rescue hovercraft which arrived on the scene recently testified at a hearing into the tragedy. One of them broke down in tears, because although they were allowed into the water to look for the victims, federal regulations strictly forbade them from entering the boat to see whether there might be any survivors in air pockets.

Now these divers are cursed with the agony of wondering whether, if they had gone inside that boat, they could have saved the adults and children who drowned. The horror is that we have people who are willing to risk their lives but not to violate regulations.

What has happened to us? Because this isn’t a problem with the divers. I doubt I would have the courage to break the rules either. They are probably better men than me, or than most of us. This is a problem with our society. We are so hidebound that we can’t imagine breaking the rules. Damn it, there’s a time for rules and there’s a time for standing up as human beings and making our own decisions. That’s the essence of morality. If someone is willing to take the risk and justify it, we should be grateful, because they are the ones who are going out there and saving our lives.

And you know what? Sometimes it will all go wrong. Sometimes the expert on the scene will make the wrong call and make a bad situation worse. And there won’t be any paper trail and there won’t be any rulebook to justify it and the victims’ families will scream bloody murder and sue. But just as we are doing now, we are intelligent enough to sit down and analyze the situation and figure out what went wrong and try to make it right next time, and we’re human enough to understand that people make mistakes.

Because we’re a hell of a lot better off if it’s people making the mistakes. When the system makes the mistakes, more people die and those of us who are left are less human for it. And right now we are less human. We have made our rules, and the rules say that good men must stand by and do nothing.

2004-05-18

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