It was a nice day in Cleveland, and Charles Ramsey was eating lunch on his front porch. Nothing special — just fast food. A quiet afternoon, really. Nothing special going on.
That’s when he heard a woman crying for help.
“I figured it was a domestic violence dispute,” he said in an interview. “So I open the door. And we can’t get in that way ’cause of how the door is….So we kicked the bottom.”
The woman who came out turned out to be Amanda Berry, who had been kidnapped as a teen a decade ago. Two other women, Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight, were also being held prisoner in that home, along with a young girl.
If you’re uncharitable, you might say that Ramsey was in the right place at the right time. When Amanda Berry clawed her way to the door and shouted for help, clearly anyone would have come to her aid, whether they thought she was an abused woman or a kidnap victim.
It would be nice to think that Ramsey did what anyone would do, but we know for a fact that most people wouldn’t. Given a chance to help, most humans will decide to walk away, especially if we think someone else will step up and act. The impulse to mind our own business, to treat people in despair as somebody else’s problem, is hard-wired into us.
This is especially true in cases of domestic violence. A South African study showed that people will call the police when someone’s playing the drums in the middle of the night — but loud depictions of domestic violence are met with silence. We don’t like to get involved. We don’t like to intervene in others’ personal lives. We are biased to mind our own business.
What Ramsey did was what we all think we would do, what we all aspire to do. But it’s not what we would all do if faced with a real crisis.
Ramsey’s blunt interview has earned him a bit of notoriety, because rather than being polished in interviews, he’s spoken with passion and excitement and justifiable pride in his actions. And fine, one expects everyone to be autotuned these days. But I certainly hope that people don’t think that Ramsey’s statements diminish his standing. Most people, given the chance to do what Ramsey did, would have passed. By any objective measure, Ramsey is a better person that most.
The word hero is thrown about casually, but its definition is simple: a person who, in the face of adversity, takes action for good in a way that most people would not. Quite simply, Charles Ramsey is a hero, because when he had the chance to walk away, to mind his own business, to not get involved, he instead ran to a door and forced it open, and helped three women and a girl escape their captors.
Maybe not all of us would act as he did. But all of us should remember, and when we see someone in distress, we need to be willing to do what Ramsey did — ignore the voice telling us to stay put, and charge instead to aid those in need.
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